Battling Melanoma

In June 2013, my husband, Gordon, learned that his melanoma had gone metastatic. He had half a dozen tumours in his abdomen and one in his brain. We both wondered whether it was “game-over.” I was haunted by a story of Atul Gawande’s called Letting Go which describes some of the “heroic measures” that doctors take to prolong lives—doomed remedies that can make patients’ last days utterly wretched. Neither Gordon nor I wanted his life to end in such a miserable fashion. Had we reached the point where we should stop looking for a cure and concentrate on living the next few months—as fully as possible? Gordon asked his oncologist, Sasha Smiljanic, what he thought. Dr. Smiljanic was emphatic: Gordon should not give up: he should have his brain tumour removed surgically and then look for a clinical trial of a medicine that would dispatch his other cancers.

Gordon had the surgery and then we began searching for a study. Despite several attempts, we couldn’t find anything in Canada for which Gordon qualified. We went further afield. I made dozens of phone calls. Finally, we learned about a study in Texas that had a spot for just two more patients. We scrambled to get Gordon enrolled. He had his first infusion in August 2013 and flew back to Vancouver to see how the medicine would affect him. Would Gordon be one of the lucky ones?  The outcome of the treatment was astonishing. Not only did Gordon respond, he responded within in three days!

Battling Melanoma takes a reader through the emotional upheaval that can follow a diagnosis of cancer. It also demonstrates what activist patients can do to help themselves. The world of cancer is changing rapidly, and now with the latest scientific data only a few keyboard clicks away, patients and their families can access the most up to date information and find treatments for conditions that only recently were deemed incurable.

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