News & Press
Melanoma Awareness Month: The Creation of Steve’s Army
Guest blog from Steve Precker, stage IV melanoma survivor and founder of a top funding Miles for Melanoma team known as Steve’s Army:
In July 2019 I received the worst news: “You have melanoma.” I knew exactly what it was; having fair skin with freckles and moles, I’d grown up going to the dermatologist and knew all about the ABCDs of skin checks. I’d had a few suspicious looking moles removed when I was younger (all benign) so I was completely aware of how to stay safe from the sun and what to look for.
Flashback a month or so prior to late May/early June 2019, I noticed a small lump on my neck. Having been a healthy, 37-year old with no prior issues I didn’t really think anything of it and figured it would go away on its own. Well, it didn’t. In early July I decided to go to my general practitioner for a very long overdue physical. I had bloodwork done and my liver enzyme numbers were abnormally high. That, combined with the lump on my neck, prompted my doctor to recommend an abdominal sonogram. “Just to be safe,” as he put it. Cue to my world being turned upside down.
I was at work when I received the call. “I’m sorry to have to tell you this over the phone, but it’s pretty urgent,” said the voice on the other end. “The sonogram images show multiple masses across your liver and spleen. It’s very likely you cancer. Given where the masses are located and what’s probably an enlarged lymph node in your neck, it could be leukemia or lymphoma.” I needed to get the lump in my neck biopsied to be sure and meet with an oncologist to discuss potential next steps.
With my head still spinning, I made the worst calls of my life – to my wife and parents. How do I tell them I might have cancer? From there everything happened with what seemed like lightning speed. I had my enlarged lymph node removed and met with an oncologist at Virginia Cancer Specialists who recommended a PET scan. While I was waiting to be taken back for the scan, I actually received the call from the ENT who removed the lymph node. “Mr. Precker, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you have melanoma.” Wait. How could I have melanoma? I didn’t have any weird spots on my skin or moles that changed shape or color. I hadn’t had a sunburn in years and was pretty diligent at using sunscreen. It didn’t make sense. The results from my PET scan didn’t make sense either.
“It’s very extensive,” said my oncologist. “You have tumors all over your liver, spleen, in your bones, and more than 100 lesions all over your body.” All of a sudden I’d been feeling these little lumps and bumps pop up everywhere under my skin – and my back and shoulders, where the melanoma was most concentrated in my bones – were painful. My wife asked what stage it was. Stage IV came the response with no hesitation whatsoever.
“We have to go into this with eyes wide open,” said my oncologist. “Fortunately, there’s a new treatment for advanced melanoma – immunotherapy.” I’d never heard of it. As my doctor explained what it was and how it was different than chemotherapy, I steeled myself and prepared for the fight of my life, literally. There was so much outside of my control and I was reeling. I decided to focus on the positive and control what I could, my attitude. Yes, I was afraid; terrified even. But I refused to give in to the negative and instead decided to find the positive in what was the most terrible situation. There was a treatment available. My youth and previous health history were benefits. And I had a STRONG network of friends and family to walk beside me on this journey.
Let me tell you about that network. One of my friends told me I had an army of people praying for and supporting me. So, I decided to start a Facebook group called Steve’s Army. With more than 150 members, Steve’s Army is a place where I can keep my friends and family updated on my “cancer activities.” The support, compassion, positive energy and prayers I’ve received from my Army have been overwhelming. And my team has stepped up so much – in support of me and my wife, Lauren, and in support of melanoma research. I’m so proud to say that we came in second place in fundraising in the DC area for the MRF’s Virtual Miles for Melanoma in 2020!
Every day I’m humbled and honored to have such an amazing support group in my life. I couldn’t have kept my positivity without them.
I’m beyond thankful to say that after the four initial combination immunotherapy treatments my melanoma is on its heels. We’ve seen a dramatic anti-tumor response and all areas where the cancer was focused now show either nothing or what’s likely scar tissue (my liver is the last place that still shows something that my oncologists think is scar tissue). I haven’t received the ever so sought after “no evidence of disease” proclamation, but I remain hopeful. I’ve come too far and fought too hard. The immunotherapy has left my beard, eyelashes, and eyebrows white and I now have hypothyroidism. But I’ll take it. I’m here. I feel strong. And I’ve turned into a passionate advocate with a strong desire to help others.
Recently I became a mentor with Imerman Angels. I want to help others with melanoma as they go through their journey. Thanks to organizations like the MRF, research toward treatments for melanoma has brought people suffering from this cancer opportunity and life.
I’m hopeful for what the future holds and excited to play a role in finding a cure.
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