Mike’s Melanoma Story
In late July 2009, Emily noticed a strange looking mole on Mike’s back. Mike went to the dermatologist and they removed the mole. On Aug 4, we got the news that it was melanoma and Mike was immediately sent to an oncologist for surgery to remove the margins and that is the picture you see on the left (we call it the shark bite). The depth of a melanoma tumor is called the “Breslow Depth” and it is one of the most important prognostic factors in Melanoma. Mike’s mole was 1.3 mm deep into the epidermis. If you catch a melanoma before it grows past 1mm, the chances of it spreading to your internal organs are much lower. When Mike had surgery, they also tested his lymph nodes to see if the cancer had spread there. Unfortunately, they found microscopic melanoma cells in one of his lymph nodes. They sent Mike for full body scans to see if he had tumors inside his body. Thankfully nothing was found and in September, he had a second surgery to remove all of the lymph nodes under his arm. Out of 30+ lymph nodes, no further melanoma cells were found. So Mike has Stage IIIa Melanoma and every 6 months we endure very stressful PET scans to see if the cancer has spread to his internal organs – something that happens to 30-70% of the people with Stage 3 melanoma.
December 2010: Mike has had no complications from surgery except for numbness in his arm from nerve damage. He is doing very well now - thanks to a great surgeon – Dr Aziz Ahmad. He has chosen not to do a year of Interferon – this is a type of immunotherapy that boosts the immune system, but it makes you quite sick. It is the only FDA approved adjuvant (post surgical) therapy for Stage 3 melanoma. According to the research, it does reduce the chance of recurrence by 10%, but it doesn’t affect “overall survival”. So Mike has chosen to torture himself at the gym every day instead…until they find better drug options for melanoma…which are coming soon.
Update Feb 2010: Scans are all clear 6 months after diagnosis. He has no lymphedema from surgery and has healed very well.
Update July 2010: Scans are clear one year later. He has some numbness in his arm but he is all healed one year later. Unfortunately with melanoma the most common time of a recurrence in 18-24 mos after diagnosis.
Feb 2011: scans were clear and we went to Vegas to celebrate!
Aug 2011: 2 years NED – scans were clear. This was an important milestone because many people recur before 2 years. Instead of scans every 6 months, Mike will have scans once a year. We hate scanxiety so much, that this is good news to us – but it is also kind of scary that we will have to rely on symptoms to detect any metastasis.
April 2012 – great checkup with Mike’s doc – scans will be ordered in late July for his 3 year anniversary.
Nov 2012 – His yearly scan says Mike is still all clear of melanoma. He has had no treatment. Yay!
LEARN MORE ABOUT MELANOMA. IT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE. http://www.melanoma.org/
Melanoma is now the most common form of cancer for young adults 15-29 years old. If caught early - when it is confined to the surface of your skin - Melanoma is curable. The prognosis worsens as it grows deeper into your body and affects your vital organs. Get your skin checked by a dermatologist on a regular basis. Pay attention to changes in your moles. Melanoma can occur anywhere on the body, including places “where the sun don’t shine” - it usually shows up on the trunk, neck, limbs, fingers, and toes. People with fair skin are especially at risk – but anyone can get it and it doesn’t discriminate by age.