Finding hope

The reality of cancer’s lifetime and life-limiting diagnosis hits hard when a clean surgical biopsy report is still followed by an 80-percent chance of recurrence if nothing is done besides quarterly checkups. That’s the wallop behind metastatic melanoma. I knew this going into my post-surgical visit with the oncologist, but it is like the punch of hearing the news for the first time when you hear your odds and look at the probability of death from melanoma, if no further measures are taken.

The only good thing about getting melanoma at this point in life is the promise of many new hopeful drugs on the horizon, one which was part of a clinical trial. Luckily I qualified for that trial. However any gamble, and this was a gamble with one option of the trial much less desirable than the others due to harsh side-effects, comes with some risk and those side-effects weighed heavily on my mind. The only thing that weighed heavier was death. I weighed the odds – possibly feeling like I have the flu for a year against potentially dying before my grandchildren are teens. It didn’t seem like much of a decision.

Once all my scans and tests were complete, I was tossed into the randomization for the trial. I prayed silently that whatever way the dice would roll, I would be able to handle the results. My prayers continued to be answered. I was picked for the best of the three options (arms) of the trial – the one my oncologist had hoped I would get, a low dose of Ipilimumab or Yervoy, a promising treatment for melanoma with less harsh side-effects than Interferon.

It’s been a week now since my first treatment, a 90-minute intravenous injection that I repeat every three weeks for the first four doses. Aside from being more tired and the start of a few mouth sores, side-effects have been minimal. I’m still working full-time. I’m still running and working out, although sometimes at a slower pace and intensity. Physical therapy from the surgery went well. If it wasn’t for the scars, I would barely know the difference from my other arm. Now it’s the long diligent march to hopefully avoid lymphedemia, a march that will never end until my last breath.

In all of this, there lies so much hope. I qualified for the trial. I got the best of three trial arms. I’m fully recovered from surgery. Except for the cloud of cancer hanging overhead, I am healthy and strong. One wouldn’t think cancer and hope could sit on the same page together, yet if you don’t grab onto hope, cancer will win. I won’t let that happen.

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