Dear Doctor Barry,
I want to thank you. Two years ago, you gave me the biggest motivational speech I’ve ever gotten. You didn’t mean it, of course, but in your profession, being upfront with cancer patients is a prerequisite. You were treating me for Stage IV melanoma, a 37-year old husband and father of two (including a newborn baby boy), and we met after abdominal surgery to discuss systemic treatment plans. So when you responded to my wife’s inquiry of “How much time do we have?” with “I’d be surprised if he is here in two years,” you set the bar for both my recovery and this letter. Since that meeting, I have been determined to prove that the prognosis, while statistically accurate, wasn’t correct.
You were close – SOMETHING was gone in two years. On August 22, 2014, surgeons at MD Anderson removed the last growing tumor, and a PET scan detected no other active cancer. For the first time since that fateful meeting in 2012, cancer was no longer dominating my health, my body, or my life. I felt so good, so liberated, I was even doing a bit of yoga in my recovery room. My battle with melanoma is far from finished, and only time will tell if I am really “cancer-free.” Given the initial dismal prognosis, though, the last two years have been a wild, difficult, and wonderful journey to both capture life and escape imminent death.
That first consult helped us frame the possibilities for what was to come. You offered us the standard of care chemotherapy, based off a genetic test report. We dug a little deeper, unsatisfied with a pre-ordained life expectancy sentence, and met with three more oncologists to discuss the emerging treatment options for metastatic melanoma. Ultimately, I ended up at Moffitt on a clinical trial, the first-ever patient to combine a sequence of treatments. Five surgeries, two trials, and four different medications later, I am close to being considered a complete responder.