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Melanoma Awareness Month: A Daughter’s Viewpoint on her Mother’s Melanoma Diagnosis

Guest blog from Kristin Wlezien, daughter of a stage III melanoma survivor:

kirstin and mom WPIt has been almost five years since my mother was diagnosed with stage III melanoma. Five days after my wedding, she discovered a lump under her right armpit, an enlarged lymph node. The doctors initially thought my mother had breast cancer until the biopsy revealed it was melanoma. Surgery was immediately scheduled to remove her lymph nodes on her right arm. A lot of physical therapy and adjuvant therapy was recommended. At that time, the immunotherapy drug recommended following surgery was ipilimumab. Unfortunately, my mom only completed two infusions before she developed toxic reactions to the drug. The treatment was stopped but her PET scan came back with no traces of melanoma, so no treatment was continued after. 

It wasn’t until almost two years later her PET scan showed the melanoma had spread to her lungs, Stage IV. This time the treatment recommended was nivolumab, which initially shrunk the tumors, until more developed.  

At this point, her doctors recommended she be part of a clinical trial at The University of Chicago. The clinical trial recommended was a combination of a lower dose of ipilimumab in combination with pembrolizumab. The combination of the two drugs had not been approved to treat melanoma and their use in the study was considered experimental. As with any clinical trial, my mom was closely monitored. She had some side effects that were controlled with medication. After just three months, the tumors were shrinking. When the trial ended at the end of 2020 after two years, my mom’s CT scan showed no signs of measurable tumors. The clinical trial showed that a lower dose of ipilimumab was effective. And in my mom’s case, she was able to tolerate the treatment.

Ten+ years ago, without these immunotherapy drugs the outcome could’ve been much different. Doctors and researchers are making enormous strides in improving survival rates for patients diagnosed with melanoma. 

 

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