Metastatic melanoma survivor: ‘Coming back to MD Anderson is a great feeling’

In May 2016, Victor Barreiro learned his melanoma, originally treated in his hometown of
Mexico City in 2014, had returned and spread throughout his body.
There were growths in his lungs, liver, spleen and brain – a total of
15 separate spots where cancer had spread, or metastasized.

Today, after metastatic melanoma treatment at MD
Anderson
, most of those growths are gone. The few that remain
are just a fraction of their original sizes and aren’t growing.

Choosing MD Anderson for brain
tumor surgery and metastatic melanoma treatment

When Victor found out his melanoma had spread, his doctors in Mexico
offered treatment, but they recommended he go to a cutting-edge
research hospital.

He first met with a neurosurgeon in Baltimore, who said removing
that growth was a relatively straightforward procedure, but treating
the disease throughout his body was the real challenge. So Victor
decided to start interviewing oncologists. Two days later, Victor met
with Hussein Tawbi, M.D., Ph.D., at MD Anderson.

“When I met him, everything was so clear to me,” says Victor. “Those
moments when you’re diagnosed and you have to decide where to get your
treatment are very stressful. Once you find the best place for your
treatment, then you rest. It was a relief to find Dr. Tawbi – not only
his warmth, his kindness, but also his amazing knowledge and his
groundbreaking research.”

Since Victor’s brain metastasis presented the most immediate health
risk, he underwent a craniotomy to remove the growth just one week
after his first appointment at MD
Anderson
. Performed by Jeffrey Weinberg, M.D., the procedure addressed
symptoms like confusion, seizures and trouble
finding words. Victor then underwent Gamma Knife® stereotactic radiosurgery, which
uses a powerful, focused beam of radiation to kill any remaining
cancer cells.

Immunotherapy shrinks tumors

After a short recovery, Victor started a combination of two immunotherapy drugs  to treat the rest of the
metastases.  

Rather than worrying about whether the treatment was working, he
tried to keep life as normal as possible. He rented an apartment in
Houston and brought his wife and children to live with him. He worked,
went to museums, spent time with his family and strictly followed his
care team’s exercise and nutrition instructions.

Victor underwent his first imaging exams just nine weeks into his
immumotherapy regimen. This was sooner than planned, but he’d
developed hepatitis – a condition treated with steroids that
counteracted Victor’s immunotherapy medications. Still, Victor was
hopeful and was not disappointed by the MRI results.

“What they found was a 30% reduction in tumor size across the board.
That was incredible news to us and also our doctors because they knew
the immunotherapy was acting positively in my body,” Victor says.

 His tumors continued to shrink, and tests in January, April and
July 2017 showed even better results: most tumors of the remaining had
shrunk and were showing up as inactive in PET scans.

“Everybody was absolutely ecstatic,” Victor says. “We have strong
religious beliefs in my family, and we were in constant prayer for my
health. With these amazing results, we were certain that I had
received a second opportunity to live.”

“A feeling of security”

Victor has now resumed his life in Mexico City. He hasn’t put his
cancer journey in the past, though. He talks to newly diagnosed cancer
patients about twice a week and works with MD
Anderson’s
International Center to help other international
patients access the hospital.

He also returns to Houston every few months for follow-up tests to
see if his condition has changed. While these visits are nerve-racking
for some, Victor sees them in a positive light, no matter what the
results show.

“Coming back to MD Anderson is a great
feeling,” he says. “It’s a feeling of security, that I’m getting the
correct treatment. Even if I get news that something is not exactly as
the doctors would like it, I know I’m in the perfect and best place to
be treated.”

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by
calling 1-877-632-6789.