Stage IV melanoma survivor: An immunotherapy clinical trial saved my life

In 2006, I didn’t have any of the typical signs of melanoma: just a small bump on the top of my head behind my hairline. After a biopsy determined it was cancerous, a surgical oncologist removed it, along with some adjacent lymph nodes on both sides of my neck. After that, I enjoyed three years of being cancer-free. I really thought I’d dodged a bullet, because the tumor was removed with clear margins and none of the nearby lymph nodes had any signs of cancer. But three years later, a chest X-ray showed shadowing and spots on my lungs. The melanoma had spread. I had three separate lung surgeries over an 18-month period to remove new growths, but the cancer kept returning. By 2011, I had tumors on my lungs, pancreas and liver. One was also growing behind my heart. My oncologist told me there was nothing more he could do. Not being satisfied with that answer, I began to search for alternatives.   Why I participated in an immunotherapy clinical trial I wanted to give myself the absolute best chance for survival, so I sought out the best place for cancer treatment. MD Anderson is known for its advanced treatment options. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s been ranked No. 1 in cancer treatment year after year. At MD Anderson, I met with Dr. Patrick Hwu. After agreeing on a plan of action, he ordered tests to see if I qualified for any kind of targeted therapy. Unfortunately, I was not a good match, so the waiting and search for a viable option continued.   Then...