I was diagnosed with stage IIIA melanoma in April of 2015, and progressed to stage IV in December 2016 with lesions in my lungs and liver. My primary tumor was a mole on my stomach that's always been there. I noticed it getting darker and irritated while I was on deplyoment. I didn't think much of it at the time, and wasn't able to see a dermatologist until I was back stateside a few months later. They excised the entire mole on April 01 and called me back the next day to tell me it was malignant melanoma. Unfortunately NOT an April Fool's joke.
I had two surgeries in April 2015 - one to remove a large area of tissue around the mole (about 6"x1.5") and test a couple lymph nodes in my left armpit for cancer, and the second to remove all of the lymph nodes in the area because one of them from the first surgery was positive for melanoma. None of the others were cancerous, and I had a full body scan that was also clear.
Shortly after the two surgeries I moved to Washington, DC for military orders I'd received some months earlier. Fortunately, this put me in a great area because my care was transferred to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. I had no detectable cancer at that point, but because the type of melanoma I had was considered high-risk, I did a course of immunotherapy called Ipilimumab, or "Ipi" for whort, as some extra insurance to help my immune system kill off any remaining cancer cells that might be floating around. I developed a severe case of life-threatening colitis after the second dose and spent 9 days as an in-patient at Walter Reed, so I had to discontinue treatment. It took several months of steroids and another drug to get the colitis fully under control, but eventually I worked my way back to normal and started the routine dermatology/scan routine that melanoma patients have to follow for years after a diagnosis.
Just before Thanksgiving 2016, I found a small mass under my left arm, just outside the surgical margins of my lymph node removal. I had it biopsied, and it came back positive for melanoma. This was pretty devastating news because I was nearing the 2-year point of No Evidence of Disease, or "NED", which is a great milestone towards a lifetime of no more melanoma. I also had my routine PET scan just after that, and found out on December 20th that I had growths in both of my lungs and the right lobe of my liver. It was a big shock because I had no symptoms and felt completely healthy. I started immediately on another immunotherapy drug called Nivolumab. It's more effective than Ipilimumab, and statistically has less toxicity. It's administered by IV in the Chemo unit at Walter Reed, and I'll have infusions every two weeks. I started immediately on 22 December. We'll do new scans in couple months to see what effect the drug is having on the tumors and re-assess at that point.
This is a really long entry at this point so I'll end here for now, but I will update this as often as I can. Stage IV cancer is a scary place to be at age 36. While it wasn't entirely unexpected - I always knew it was a possibility - it's still incredibly shocking, and Nick and I can use as much support as possible. We'd love to hear from you. We are working to build up our support network out here in DC as well.