Metastatic melanoma survivor finds hope in clinical trials

Joey Nelson has always loved the sun. “I sailed growing up,” he says. “Every Saturday we’d go and I’d get sunburned like crazy, not even thinking about putting on sunscreen.” With fair skin, red hair and moles, Joey was already at increased risk for skin cancer, so he wasn’t exactly surprised by his melanoma diagnosis. The skin cancer first showed up on his leg in 1986. After having the melanoma removed with a skin graft and lymph node biopsy, he remained cancer-free for more than 20 years. During that time, Joey and his wife bought a 22-acre farm southwest of Houston, where they continued to spend time outdoors, tending to their cattle. In 2012, the cancer returned. Joey had several more surgeries and an isolated limb perfusion. But when the melanoma kept coming back, his sister urged him to come to MD Anderson. “She said this was the place to be,” Joey says. “There’s so much opportunity because they do so much research.” Immunotherapy clinical trials for melanoma In May 2013, Joey came to MD Anderson, where his doctor recommended an immunotherapy combination clinical trial. Since previous surgical and chemotherapy treatments had failed, Joey didn’t hesitate to try immunotherapy. “I’m optimistic,” he says. “The drugs were already approved; it was just the combination that was being tested in the trial.” Other than gaining water weight, the combination of a cytokine therapy and a peptide vaccine seemed to be keeping his melanoma under control. Joey spent a year rotating one week at MD Anderson for IV infusions, one week at home recovering and one week back at work. In March...