By Skip Grinberg
In this guest blog post, Skip Grinberg shares his family’s experience with melanoma and his drive to advance research.
Life can occasionally throw you a sharp-breaking curveball. As a result, you may find yourself involved in issues and campaigns that you never could have anticipated. My interest in melanoma and participation with the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) fall into this category.
Two years ago my son, Lee, called to tell me that he had been diagnosed with melanoma that had metastasized to his brain. It was one of those phone calls you never want to receive – one that completely refocuses your life.
Lee had surgery a few days later to remove two brain tumors. After surgery he began investigating treatment options, including immunotherapy drugs, most of which were only available in clinical trials. He was fortunate to contact another melanoma patient, Jeff Rowbottom, who has been very active with MRA. With the help of Jeff and MRA, a new universe of information opened, assisting Lee in his understanding of the disease and treatment options. In December 2013, Lee entered a clinical trial – he received a combination of nivolumab and lirilumab, experimental immunotherapy drugs developed by Bristol-Myers Squibb.
As I followed Lee’s treatment, I became aware of the sharp rise in the number of melanoma cases and, in particular, the disturbing increase in diagnosis of young adults. I also became aware of the progress made in the past few years in the treatment of melanoma and the leadership role that MRA has played in funding research grants that have made these advancements possible.
In February 2014, I joined Lee at the MRA Annual Scientific Meeting in Washington. I was thoroughly impressed by the dedication of the researchers, the extent of the research being explored and its implications for the future – not only for the treatment of melanoma but also for other forms of cancer. Although the research presentations were way over my non-scientific head, I was able to digest enough “big-picture” information so that I could explain immunotherapy to my friends and family. The meeting also provided an opportunity to network with other melanoma patients and their families and many of the professionals working in this field. The experience further emphasized how MRA has been instrumental in the advancement of knowledge that has benefited Lee and many other patients, giving them something that had rarely existed in the world of metastatic melanoma – hope for the future.
I was very grateful and knew I had to do my part. I created a personal letter telling Lee’s story and sent it to friends and relatives, probably about 150 letters in total. The goal was twofold: to raise funds for MRA and to educate people on the seriousness of melanoma and the progress being made in its treatment. The response was overwhelming and personally very gratifying. Not only did MRA receive a significant number of contributions, but many people called to thank me for informing them about melanoma and to express support for Lee and wish him well. I am now starting to work on the second phase of my personal campaign for MRA. I am excited about it and hoping it is as successful as the first. In addition, our entire family supported #SunHatSat last Memorial Day weekend, to raise awareness about melanoma prevention. We took a photo of four generations of our family wearing hats that weekend at a family picnic.
As I said at the beginning, I never would have expected to be involved with MRA, but I am so glad I am because of the positive impact the organization is having on Lee and thousands of other patients. Our entire family is forever grateful.