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Patient Story – Jamie Tomasko

Guest blog from Jamie Tomasko, a stage 4 metastatic melanoma survivor who shares his experience with TIL therapy:

My name is Jamie Tomasko and my story began in 2012 with just a small spot on my left shoulder.  I had a biopsy performed and it came back as melanoma, which was ultimately removed at Moffitt. Without any further thought, two years later I started noticing what felt like a bb under my skin. These areas started to grow larger and multiply, so I made an appointment with my dermatologist who sent me to a specialist to have another biopsy performed on one of the lumps. The biopsy revealed that I was again dealing with melanoma and I immediately made an appointment with Moffitt that same day.

We met with the medical oncologist who started the ball rolling. First, they did a PET scan, which to this day is the only PET scan I’ve had since being diagnosed. That PET scan revealed that the melanoma had metastasized to several other places in my body. My wife and I were brought into the medical oncologist office and told about the results; I had stage 4 metastatic melanoma. To say we both were speechless and numb is an understatement. The fact that I had this cancer didn’t seem like a priority as I immediately started thinking about my family and everything I would need to do to make sure they were taken care of when I was gone, but I had to focus on what the oncologist was saying. He gave us two options for clinical trials depending on the outcome of my BRAF test, both of which were TIL trials at Moffitt with Dr. Sarnaik. I was almost unable to partake in a clinical trial because I had my prostate removed just two years prior due to prostate cancer, but thankfully, I was just over two years with no evidence of recurrence.

So now the testing begins – the BRAF came back as BRAF wild, with this result it was decided that I would be enrolled in the clinical trial 17057 which is Ipilimumab + adoptive TIL therapy and high dose IL2. Once all testing was done and I was cleared to begin the trial, I was given the first of four doses of lpilimumab and two weeks later they were going to take a biopsy of one of my largest tumors which would be used to grow the TIL. When it was time to have the biopsy of the tumor after just one dose of Ipi, it had shrunk so much they were afraid that they would not be able to biopsy this area. Just one dose! It was a great feeling to know this was working on me already. I had a tunneled central line placed for the chemo, so it began with apheresis and the lymphodepleting chemo which depleted all my t-cells and forced me to wear a mask and be careful around others since I was now more prone to infection.

I was admitted to the hospital under the care of Doctor Sarnaik. This man is incredible. I was his only patient and he was either at the hospital or on the phone no matter what time it was. I had the absolute best nurses on all shifts and having a team like this truly made going through this so much better. When it came time to infuse the TIL, I was told that they had grown 94 billion new cells, which still amazes me. They started the IL2 after the infusion of the T-cells. I initially received 4 doses of IL2 and at the time, it was still unknown just how many would be needed. I wanted to keep going but Dr. Sarnaik stopped due to Pulmonary Edema and other issues. I spent just seven days in the hospital before I was ready to get back to work and during all the other treatments and testing, I didn’t miss more than a week of work aside from the time I spent in the hospital. Once I finished the treatment, Initially I was going back every 3 months for scans, and then it was every 6 months and now just once yearly for a check-up. I have not had any new tumors and most of the tumors they have been following have either shrunk to almost nothing or reduced to just scar tissue. I am now at 10 years and still feel great because of my super immune system.

I cannot say enough about the entire staff at Moffitt, all my doctors and the nurses who looked after me. Without them all, I know I would not be here right now.