Mitchell Kieffer

First post: Jun 13, 2021 Latest post: May 1, 2023
Prelude: 100% disability rating, medically retired from US Air Force after 8yrs service. Wounded while on a volunteer deployment to Iraq with the US Army Corps of Engineers to help rebuild the war-torn country and help the citizens of Iraq. Traumatic Brain Injury, 10 broken vertebrae, etc, etc, from the brush with death in 2011, he has had a continual battle on a daily basis with multiple health issues stemming from those war injuries. Fought through to earn a technical Masters Degree in Data Science/Operations Research (Applied Mathematics), and had continued to work as a gov’t contractor for US Special Operations Command - Central (Middle East), HQ US Special Operations Command, and HQ US Strategic Command on Top Secret programs. And now… Stage 4 Cancer (as told by his medical team; less than 20% chance to live up to 5yrs. At time of diagnosis; 36yrs old).  

First notice of something wrong - Slightly raised weird looking mole found prior to my 1st spine surgery (March 19th) to remove the spinal cord stimulator that had become infected. Unfortunately, I had to leave the hospital after that recovery and to schedule an outpatient visit to a dermatologist in the city which wouldn't be for 50 days later.

March 30 - I had to go to ER due to leaking fluid from incision. Admitted inpatient again for another emergency spine surgery to clean out the same areas. The mole was still relatively small in size but growing thicker. After 2 days inpatient, around April 1st I noticed a quarter sized sphere/lump under my arm (the first note of spreading to the lymph nodes). Dermatology still would not see me in the hospital.

May 9 - at my appointment the dermatologist knew it was imperative to operate ASAP, even doing things out of order (surgery, and THEN a CT). He scheduled me for his first available on 20 May. This was also about the time that I had a follow-up with my primary care doctor from internal medicine. He viewed the mole and now the lymph node growth under my arm and stated his worry about it as well, but said to wait a while longer before he would get more "aggressive" in terms of having me get a CT scan. After hearing what the dermatologist said, they started with a chest CT which showed tumors. Then I had biopsies. And then a PET-CT which showed obvious cancer tumors and the need to operate.

While waiting for all of these appointments and waiting for results, I started having transient cancer, basically connecting my arm pit lymph node problem area to the wound on my shoulder blade. I then had to wait about another week for the docs to get together at a Tumor board (slowing things up again), and then I finally get a decision from them that they'll operate. I get my appointment with my Oncology Surgeon. Then, instead of immediate surgery like everyone agreed needed to happen, I was told that I can't have it done yet because my surgeon is going on vacation out of town for the Memorial Day weekend and not returning until Monday evening. I'm then admitted Monday for surgery on Tuesday and a new malignant tumor in my neck grew in the meantime in less than 4 days.

My 1st surgery was to remove all the lymph nodes under my arm (total size of about a softball with biggest one being size of a fist), along with the large lesion that grew from the mole on my back, as well as the transient cancer that developed to connect those two areas, as well as the lymph node that grew quickly in my neck in just 4 days prior to surgery. The doc removed that one as well and found it to be malignant (more metastases). Following the first surgery, my cancer case had been confirmed as Stage 4. Unfortunately, pathology came back that they still had not taken enough of the surrounding area and the edges had some melanoma still present along with further spreading deeper into my body seen in some of my fascia (covering the muscles). This was the point I learned the new prognosis (20% up to 5 yrs). I had to have a second surgery to take more margins, opening the major wound even greater, and removal of some of the fascia this time as well. Due to the aggressiveness of my cancer, we couldn't wait for me to keep the wound open any longer, so a 3rd surgery was scheduled with only knowing part of the pathology results from the 2nd. They did already find out that the extra margins from the 2nd surgery still were not enough, so they took even more margins for the 3rd time in my 3rd surgery. Plastic surgeons were the main ones involved to close my gaping wound. Fortunately, they didn't need to do skin grafts and did a tremendous job being able to rotate/stretch skin in certain ways. Truly a work of art, even though I won't be able to model for ‘Old Spice’ for the rest of my days. The total length of the incision goes from almost the center of my spine, all the way around my side/arm pit and ends barely prior to my nipple area.

The extra margin opening up Mitch's back even more from his 3rd Cancer surgery (where they closed him up) (5th invasive surgery since late March ‘21 to include the 2 emergency spine surgeries) came back as still having Melanoma. They can’t really take any more of his skin because they’ve already taken a huge portion from his body. He was informed he’ll start immunotherapy already on this Thursday morning. It’s up to his own body now to fight it.