Survivor Stories

Jim Cera, Stage IV

My name is Jim Cera. I’m 39 years old and am a melanoma warrior/survivor. At age 36, in August 2011, I noticed a mole on my back had begun to change color. It was a mole that I’d had for most of my life, and a dermatologist had told me when I was a teenager to keep an eye on it but that at the time they weren’t worried about. I had just returned from a family trip to the lake and noticed it becoming a darker, almost black/blue color and was concerned. I was also scared to go into the doctor for fear of what it could be, but I did and she used a punch biopsy to remove it. A little over a week later while at cross country practice where I work, the doctor called my wife and said she needed to see me immediately. My wife and co-workers tracked me down, and she drove me to the doctor’s office where I received the news. It was melanoma, and she’d already set up an appointment with a plastic surgeon to have it removed.

I met with the surgeon, and he went over the details, as well as some of the prognosis. I was to have a wide area excision and sentinel node biopsy of my left axillary region. I was obviously scared and overwhelmed as I am a father to three young children and you can never be ready for the big ‘C.’ Well, a 7-inch scar on my back and a week later, the surgeon called with the results. The sentinel node tested positive for melanoma, and they needed to do a complete dissection to remove them all. In the meanwhile, I had a CT scan, a PET scan, and MRI of the brain to rule out any other locations. All were clear, and only the one node showed any cancer.

I was immediately placed on a 1-year regimen of interferon. Picc line placed in my arm and 3 hours a day in the oncology suite surrounded by other cancer patients in different stages of treatment. Not a very uplifting situation, to say the least. But after the first month was finished, I was allowed to continue the last 11 months on my own, administering injections 3x a week. My doctor kept me on labs every month and scans every 3 months for that year. In Oct 2012 I finished treatments.

I didn’t even really get a break when, on October 31, I discovered a small bump on my left shoulder. The surgeon had hoped it was just a lipoma and went in to remove it that evening. He sent what he found into the lab for biopsy, but I already knew it was melanoma showing up again. The results confirmed this, but my doctor consulted with other doctors from around the region and decided it was in-transit and to watch and wait. I continued my scans and labs every 3 months, and until May 2014 everything was fine. That was when my CT came back showing an enlarged lymph node in my right axillary region. They did an ultrasound biopsy and discovered it was indeed melanoma once again. The doctors decided to do a right axillary dissection and another PET scan. This determined that the only cancer to be seen was in that lymph node.

Now here I am, 9 months later, and another routine scan shows spots on my liver and possible involvement of lymph nodes in my mesentery and groin region. A follow-up brain MRI was negative, and PET scan only indicated the one spot. I guess this was a little better as it didn’t support the multiple spots seen on the CT. My doctor said nothing changes; we still need to move forward with treatment. I am starting Tafinlar and Mekinist with the hopes and prayers that it will be effective. I know I am in for one heck of a fight but am NOT going to accept the prognosis and feeling like a death sentence that my wife and I was handed. I’ll follow up as things progress and am highly encouraged by the stories of other Stage IV survivors. I’ve got three kids, 4, 7, and 11 at home, and they’re everything to me.