Survivor Stories

Chris Apgar, Stage III

I’m Chris, a 33 year old Husband, and Father of three beautiful little girls as well as an active duty U.S. Marine of 14 years. My girls are Skylar who is 11, Ashlyn is 4, and Keely is 3. In December of 2009 I had a mole on the left side of my forehead that was changing rapidly. It seemed to have doubled in size in a period of about a month. After seeing my primary care doctor I was referred to dermatology, and they did a shave biopsy. This was on January 6, 2010. On January 13, 2010, I received a phone call that changed my life. The pathology had diagnosed the mole as a T3 melanoma. The unfortunate thing is that I wasn’t at home, I was on my way to Europe on business, and when I returned to Seattle is when the fun began. I was referred to the ENT clinic at Madigan Army Medical Center, and met three Doctor’s. I was scheduled for a PET scan, sentinel lymph node biopsy, a wide local excision, and possible left neck dissection. This was February 10, 2010. My surgery was scheduled for February 25th. That evening of the 10th, I noticed a bump had developed on the left side of my head right under where the original mole was located. When I returned to the ENT clinic for a pre-op check up on the 17th, I told them, and this changed the surgical course. I no longer needed a sentinel lymph node biopsy because they now knew which one the sentinel node was. The PET scan results also confirmed the sentinel node, but showed no distant metastasis.

February 25th finally arrived, and I reported into the surgical department. I was put in a bed, given an IV, and all of the fixings. Before I knew it, I had awakened in the recovery room 10 hours later! I was put in the recovery ward where I resided for the next three days. The following morning, the Dr had come to speak with me and told me the news. They removed 65 lymph nodes from the left side of my head and neck. The reason they did is because there was visible melanoma metastasis throughout the lymphatic channels and in the nodes. I went home from the hospital on February 28th and eagerly awaited the pathology report.

I went for the first post-op follow up that following Wednesday and was notified that 13 of the lymph nodes were positive for metastatic melanoma. This put me at a stage IIIc. I was then told that my chances of beating this disease were not as good as it beating me. My overall 5 year survival rate was only 28%. Very hard news to take…

I was referred to oncology, and radiation oncology. After talking to two different oncologists, I decided to turn down the interferon regiment of treatment because of the lack of a plausible benefit. I did however take radiation treatments, and those began on March 30th, and ended on April 13th of 2010. I received 5 heavy doses of radiation treatment that made me very ill, and burnt pretty bad.

Since then, I have had routine follow ups, and two repeat PET scans. The two PET scans have both been N.E.D. and the dermatologist has not biopsied anything else. I am covered with freckles as I am a fair skinned person, and I’ve had many types of sunburn throughout my life. Fortunately for me, being in otherwise good health, and pretty athletic I healed very quickly from surgery, and radiation treatments. I have gone back to my normal life of being a military family and am back on the field with my Ultimate Frisbee team, as well as the unit softball team. It’s been almost a year now, and my ENT oncologist is very pleased with progression of everything and the consistent NED results. I take each day as it comes now, and live it as if I were dying. I spend as much time as possible with my wife and children, they are my life. Special thanks goes out to my family, friends, and God for guiding me down this bumpy road, without them, I don’t think I would’ve been able to handle what I went through mentally.