Immunotherapy & Awareness: Fighting Melanoma on Two Fronts

MRA is saddened by the news that Mark Carter lost his battle with melanoma this week.  We send our condolences to his family and friends.   He had hoped that sharing his story would educate and raise awareness of this deadly disease.    

I first went to see my doctor in 1999 after my wife’s prompting.  She had noticed a mole on my lower right abdomen that had changed shape and wanted me to get it checked.  My doctor told me it was nothing to be concerned about and sent me home.  The mole continued to grow and again my wife told me to go see the doctor.  I did and this time he agreed to remove it.

A week later, my doctor rang me at work and told me that it was malignant melanoma.  Both my wife and I were totally devastated by this news.

Things were a bit of a blur after this, but I had a wide-level excision and regular check-ups for 10 years after surgery.  Finally, I was discharged from the hospital feeling incredibly relieved that the disease had not recurred.

In April 2012, I woke up one morning with a painful lump under my left armpit and the alarm bells started ringing in my head.  I saw my doctor who said he was 80% sure it was an infected lymph node but could not rule out melanoma due to my past history.  The lump never improved, so it was removed by surgery and I was told that the melanoma had returned.  I was now stage IIIC.

The first CT scan taken within three months of my surgery showed that my disease had not been contained, so I was put on the BRAF inhibitor treatment, vemurafenib.  I was now a stage IV terminal patient.  Three months later, the next scan revealed that I had shown a complete response to this amazing drug.  Unfortunately, 13 months later the disease came back.  Vemurafenib is only a life prolonger, not a cure, and resistance usually occurs.

Finally, I was put on the immunotherapy drug, ipilimumab, and a few weeks ago I finished my last infusion.  My next scan will show if I am a responder or not, but even if I do fail to respond I am lucky enough to have been offered the chance to take the new anti-PD-1 drug, nivolumab, under the expanded access scheme in the UK.

Although I had 13 years clear of the disease, I now count my lucky stars that there are treatments available that have kept me alive for 18 months.  I truly believe there has been a huge paradigm shift in melanoma treatments, particularly in the field of immunotherapy.  In maybe five years’ time, melanoma will no longer be a terminal disease but more of a chronic illness.

I now devote most of my time to raising awareness of the risk factors and causes of melanoma.  Still far too many people are ignorant of the dangers of excessive UV exposure.  I believe that education is the key to increasing awareness and ultimately reducing the recent explosion in melanoma incidence.

 

Mark and Liz Carter edit

About the Author

Mark Carter, 56, lived in the United Kingdom with his lovely wife Liz.  He was a UK-based melanoma awareness advocate and anti-sunbed campaigner who worked to raise awareness of this deadly disease.  You can learn more about Mark’s journey and his advocacy work on his blog: http://www.melanomaman.co.uk/

 

 

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