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End of Year Patient Story: Steve Elefant

Steve Elefant

“Fifteen years is a long time to share one’s body with mucosal melanoma. I retired from a long career of wildland fire prevention in 2005. I was unaware at the time that my lungs and bowels were hosting a deadly visitor. In 2008, with a persistent chest cold, I headed to the family doctor. I had never had a chest x-ray; when the results were ready, I knew I was in trouble. The masses were everywhere. After a miserable summer of doctor visits and diagnostic tests including a lung biopsy, I visited my long-time dermatologist for a consult.  After reviewing my lab work he looked at me and said “you have mucosal melanoma. If you want to survive, get out of town and find a treatment center that can handle this rare cancer.” Our search for a cure began. My wife and I and our two dogs locked the door of our home, and left for Seattle, not knowing if I would ever make it home. Luckily, my daughter was in Seattle working on her master’s. We moved into her rental home for an 8-year stay.

I was admitted to the UW Medical hospital to stabilize my condition. My first meeting with my oncologist, we came up with a strategy. Throughout 2009 and part of 2010 I was treated with chemotherapy. The plan was to keep me alive long enough for a research drug that was eventually to arrive at the clinic for a clinical trial. In February 2010, I began a clinical trial with 59 other patients. This was the first time a drug called Mederx 1105 was used for treating melanoma. The months passed and by December 2011, I had my last infusion, 47 in total. My scans were good, and we made plans to return home in the spring of 2016.

The years passed and all was well. As expected, the cancer came back in 2019; I suppose it was never really gone. The world was now a different place from 2008 with a whole new menu of drugs to treat melanoma. I started on a drug called Opdivo and again the months passed. I am approaching my 42nd infusion this December, at which time the plan will be to stop treatment and return to a monitoring phase every six months.

The journey is far from over. The continued development of new drugs and treatments keeps me encouraged. I’ve had bumps in the road, but with a skilled clinical team of doctors and nurses, I have a wonderful life with my wife, Peg. She is my greatest advocate. I know I’ll be around for a long time. I’ve already beaten the odds of surviving mucosal melanoma.”