By Steve Graf
My battle with Melanoma continues, and for those that are new to this column, I’ll backtrack. In June of this year, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Class C Melanoma. It all started back in 2021 with a small spot on my upper left ear…a spot that after a limb fell across my ear, opened a dot the size of a BB. Several weeks later, it just would not heal properly. After a routine visit to my dermatologist, we started treating the area with a chemo crème. This treatment worked for a short period, but the spot came back this past March. We treated the spot again with chemo crème, but this time it did not have the same healing effect as before.
I was scheduled to meet with my dermatologist again the first week of May, but the appointment got canceled and they rescheduled me for late June. It was during this eight-week period that it ulcerated and turned into my worst nightmare. After my dermatologist removed the spot and overnighted it to Birmingham, Alabama, for evaluation, the results came back positive for Melanoma.
These are words you never want to hear! Next, surgery was scheduled at LSU Ochsner in Shreveport to take off one inch of my left ear and remove 4 lymph nodes, 2 of which tested positive. I had two PET scans and one brain MRI and up till now, all my scans have been negative for Melanoma anywhere else in my body. Hopefully, that will continue to be the case.
It was at this point that I was advised by my Melanoma team at MD Anderson to undergo immunotherapy treatments with a drug called OPDIVO. This is a drug that boosts your immune system and attacks any cancer cells that might be present anywhere in the body. Well, your first question might be, “I thought you said your scans were negative?” It’s true, they were, but one thing I learned at MD Anderson is how Melanoma can hide in different places in your body and go undetected.
That’s why my monthly immunotherapy treatments will go on for at least one year with scans periodically every three months. I did ask the doctor at MD Anderson how long it would be before they would declare me cancer free. His response was, “It would be at least five years, as long as all your scans are negative.”
The treatments have been a little rough, especially my last two for some reason. My first injection was great with no problems or side effects, but my last two have been another story. About halfway through injection treatments two and three, I’ve had severe pain that starts out at the tailbone, spreads into the hips, and progresses up toward the chest. Not sure why, but everyone responds differently to these treatments. We’re still trying to figure out why I’m having this pain. They’ve had to give me Ativan and Demerol to help subside the pain and make me relax in order to get me through the treatment.
Hopefully soon, we’ll get a better grip on how to take these treatments. My point to this update is to remind you about being diligent when it comes to wearing proper clothing and sunscreen. Don’t take your health for granted! I never thought I would be THAT guy who had to deal with this. Even my fishing buddies who I’m closest with are shocked that I got this because I have been very consistent with sunscreen and wearing long sleeves shirts with built-in sunscreen, wearing the wide-brim hat and long pants…and I still got it.
The best advice I can give you is to see a dermatologist on a regular basis and if you have a suspicious spot anywhere on your body, get it looked at. If you don’t have a dermatologist, FIND ONE! The absolute worst thing you can do is ignore these spots! Catch it early and you might be lucky like me. Till next time, good luck, good fishing, and don’t forget your sunscreen.
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