Survivor Stories

Tom Mullen, Stage III

Date Diagnosed: 05/15/2006

What a journey!  I had a funky freckle on my back that grew pretty quick.  I went into my PC doc to get it removed as I was getting ready to head back to work and that thing was bothering me (I lived in northern MI at the time and worked construction/carpentry.  I was laid off for the winter).  The pathologist report was inconclusive and was sent to U of M cancer center.  I received a call about 4 days later from the U of M cancer center to set up an appointment with a dermatologist.  Upon that visit, the dermatologist said the plan was a wide area excision and sentinel node biopsy.  Upon starting to show me how to check my lymph nodes, there were a couple lumps under my left arm. A needle biopsy came back positive.  So, to add to the wide area excision, they wanted to take the lymph nodes, too. So I was stage 3C at first diagnosis.

Surgery was done in June of 2006.  Sometime around September/October 2006 I volunteered for a clinical trial and got on the arm with interfuron.  The first 4 weeks were iv in the U of M cancer center followed by 48 weeks of self injections 3 times/week.

Plans changed when I went down to get my first months supply of the interfuron and mentioned to my oncologist it seemed I had some weird scar tissue under my arm.  A needle biopsy came back positive.  So, back into surgery.  The team of professionals determining the course of action decided to go back into my back, too to remove more tissue.
A PET scan in December 2006 revealed the cancer was in transit subcutaneously both in my back (my oncologist said there were 9 tumors that looked like it was walking across my back) and across my collar bone area.  This stuff was not cooperating!  It was determined that the best action would be IL-2.  At the time JT was the only approved effective treatment other than surgery.

I went through tne IL-2 in Jan-Feb 2007
It was a very rough treatment and I was extremely sick through it, but a PET scan a couple weeks later showed only 3 tumors remained!!!  All others were gone!!  So the remaining ones were surgically removed.
Since tne IL-2 was so effective and more than likely the melanoma had entered the blood stream, and since it takes a tumor the size of a pencil eraser to show in a PET and that takes 3 million cancer cells (I may be off on that information a bit, it’s been a while.)  My oncologist wanted me to go through it again.  So in June 2007 I started IL-2 again.

I only got through 3 days as the risks outweighed the benefits.  My body just couldn’t take it any more.
I had a tumor pop up on my left upper arm that was removed and two more on my back, then in May(ish) 2008 a PET scan revealed melanoma in the bone of the t-7 vertebrae.  It was in a spot of the vertebrae that was determined surgery to remove that part of the vertebrae would be possible.

That was performed in June 2008…
The melanoma decided to take a rest!  PET scans and all them good tests show there were still 2 spots but they aren’t active.  As long as they aren’t active it was determined to leave them alone.  That way the researchers have time to find more treatments/cures.

November 2014 I did all the tests and everything looked the same, so for the first time since being diagnosed I was given a year before a return visit!!!

My oncologist reminded me, as he has had to do a few times, it’s not if it comes back, but when.
I’m extremely grateful for AIM at Melanoma!  They are helping many, many people diagnosed, helping many of us get the word out about this terrible, elusive cancer, and helping with the much needed research.

I attended my first 5k walk in Milford, Mi on Oct 11.  It was a very emotional and moving event.  I met and talked to quite a few new heroes of mine!

For anyone newly diagnosed: yer darn right its scary!!!  If support from other melanoma patients isn’t available locally there are some very good support forums on the web,too!

Ok, so I just scrolled up and apparently I’m supposed to say what was my greatest challenge.  That’s difficult as I think it was all a challenge but if I had to say it was keeping the hope, faith, and courage through it all.  Courage didn’t mean I didn’t have fears.  I had a crap load of ’em but I had the courage to go through it all.