Don Phillips

First post: Sep 9, 2022 Latest post: Sep 11, 2023
Welcome to our CaringBridge website. We are using it to keep family and friends updated in one place. We appreciate your support and words of hope and encouragement. Thank you for visiting. This is Donnie's story.

12 or 13 years ago, Donnie was diagnosed with Stage 1 melanoma, treated easily with a little surgery to remove a chunk of skin from his back. We were incredibly lucky to have found it so early.

In September 2021, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma. We were told that the melanoma had spread to several lymph nodes, 2 vertebrae in his neck, a lung and his liver. He is receiving treatment at the University of Michigan Hospital, and from the beginning, his oncologist has been optimistic. We were told that, unlike 10-15 years ago, there are many types of treatment for melanoma and that we should feel optimistic about treatment. The oncologist said his goal is for Donnie to be cured. We were so surprised to hear that and have focused on Donnie being cured or becoming a cancer warrior for years to come. We are so incredibly lucky the cancer didn't reappear until now.

He started immunotherapy treatment right away and went through 4 months of treatment which ended in December 2021. There were many bumps in the road during those months. The caner continued to spread, especially through the bone. Much of his vertebrae had been affected, causing multiple compression fractures. In November 2021, they found a very small lesion on the brain and by the end of December he was really struggling with his breathing and eating because of the amount of cancer in his lungs and liver. He had lost a significant amount of weight and was in a lot of pain from the amount of cancer he had in his back.

Thankfully, there were more avenues he could take for treatment, especially because he did have the BRAF mutation. In January 2022 he was put on a targeting treatment and we finally were able to see a significant change in his pain level and appetite. He quickly gained back his weight and was beginning to go back to his job sites to do a little more than look things over. By the end of March 2022 we were able to go visit family in Ohio for a couple of days.

The initial targeting treatment worked wonders and reduced the cancer quite a bit which also had him feeling much better. It was great to have a few months where his pain level was under control and he was able to work partial days again as well as take a few short summer trips.

But he started having some side effects from the treatment meds at the end of the summer 2022. As the side effects got worse he was off the meds more often than on them. The visible spots have started to grow and scans showed that the cancer spread to more of his bone throughout the body. Because of the side effects from the meds and the scans, the oncologist decided to change his treatment meds again.

Since September 2022 he has tried a different targeting treatment as well as combining immunotherapy and targeting treatment together and neither have worked well enough to keep the cancer at bay. His most recent PET scan from July 2023 shows there are numerous new tumors/lesions on his liver, lungs, lymph nodes throughout his torso and along his spine.

The oncologist said we could try other brands of the same treatments he has already used but it's not likely to have any different results. I asked about the vaccine that is being tested or any other trials but the oncologist said he doesn’t qualify for any.

The oncologist did said Donnie can try a traditional chemo that is about 15% effective and if it does work it could possibly give him another year at the most. If Donnie doesn't do anything, or if the chemo doesn't work he has about 3-4 months. Other than that, there aren't any other options.

Donnie is not ready to give up and is trying the chemo. We are so glad he has been such a fighter!! There is no way he would still be here if he wasn't fighting as hard as he has been. So far he has felt quite well and we are enjoying every day as much as possible.

We have been so thankful for all the new treatments. If his cancer had returned 10 years ago we would not have had all the options we have had. We are so incredibly thankful. We have gotten so much more time with Donnie because of the options he has had and the fight he has in him.
Thank you so much to all our friends and family who have come around him and our family with cards, gifts and prayers as we go through this crazy roller coaster life of cancer.

Many of you have asked what you can do. Prayers, first and foremost. We believe in the power of prayer and have been so blessed to have those over the past year. We are so grateful for all the support from friends and family.