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Profile in Courage

I won’t give her name here, but her story is worth telling.  She was a young woman when she found an odd mole on her back.  Simple surgery, but the path report came back as melanoma.  She didn’t know then that melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, but she learned quickly.  Her doctor, though, didn’t believe the path report.  He had another report done and then told her it was nothing to worry about.  She moved on with her life and a couple of years later married the man of her dreams. 

Not long after the wedding, though, she found a lump near her collar bone.  More doctors and more tests and then the report—metastatic melanoma

Finding that lump was the beginning of an odyssey on which none of us would willingly embark.  High-dose interferon, with the side effect of non-stop flu symptoms for a year.  Then biochemo, an unholy cocktail of an immunotherapy drug and chemotherapy drugs.  Then interleukin 2—a treatment so challenging the patient often stays in the ICU the entire time they are taking it.  She tried all the new drugs—“ipi”, “PLX4032”, and other acronyms and numbers no-one ever should have to learn. 

Brain metastases meant targeted radiotherapy, then whole-brain radiation.  Liver metastases meant the injection of microscopic polymer spheres loaded with low-grade radioactive yttrium.  (That one went awry and the radiation spread throughout her body, causing extreme pain.)

My intent is not to describe how challenging are the treatment options for melanoma.  I am writing.about her because of her courage, her optimism, her hope.  She is now in a clinical trial.  In all likelihood this will buy her a few months, then she will have to figure out the next thing.  And the next.  And the next.  In the end, either something will truly work, or she will run out of things to try.  Either way, she has certainly fought the good fight.  And that has lessons in it for us all.