Andrew (Andy) Messinger
Short Hills, N.J.
Beating Advanced Melanoma Since 2005
When I was diagnosed with melanoma eight years ago, I was
shocked: I had never been a sun worshipper. In 2007, scans
showed that the cancer had spread to my lungs, and in 2009, it
spread to my brain. As a result of the brain lesion, I became eligible
to participate in a clinical trial testing ipilimumab (Yervoy). I have
been receiving ipilimumab through the clinical trial ever since and I
am thankful every day that it has worked for so long.
It was 2005 when I first noticed a mark on my chest and went to
see my dermatologist. He thought it was a blood blister so we were
both very surprised when the biopsy revealed that it was melanoma.
My dermatologist referred me to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer
Center in New York, where I had the lesion surgically removed. I
also had a sentinel lymph node biopsy. Unfortunately, this showed
the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and I had to have a
second surgery to have lymph nodes removed. Although scans
showed no sign of metastases in my body, the fact that the cancer
was in my lymph nodes meant that my diagnosis was advanced
At that point, there were limited treatment options available to me.
It was do nothing and observe or treat with interferon. Although
the use of interferon was very controversial, after speaking with
multiple doctors to get their opinions, I decided that it was right for
me. Psychologically, I just felt I needed to be treated.
Fortunately, I was able to get the initial interferon treatments locally,
in suburban New Jersey. That helped a lot. After that, I continued
with self-injection of interferon every other day for a year. During
that time, I recuperated from my surgeries and resumed my life.
About a year after stopping interferon, scans showed tumors in my
lungs. During the surgery to remove the affected parts of my lungs,
the surgeon also removed several lymph nodes that were obviously
cancerous. In an effort to slow the disease, I was treated with
granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor, or GM-CSF. It
helped me for a few months, but then scans revealed more tumors
in my lungs.
At that point, early 2008, I was not eligible for clinical trials testing
a new therapy called ipilimumab that was being talked about
on all the patient information blogs. So, I began four rounds of
interleukin- 2, or IL- 2. The tumors shrank measurably. However,
IL- 2 was tough on my body, and then, in 2009, scans showed new
tumors in my lungs and a lesion in my brain.
The brain lesion was a turning point, and if anyone can ever
say they are lucky to have cancer in their brain, then I was very
fortunate. I became eligible for a two-year clinical trial to study
the effectiveness of ipilimumab on brain metastasis. I immediately
enrolled. I experienced side effects and actually missed a round of
treatment as a consequence, but my lung metastases disappeared.
Ipilimumab was ineffective against my brain lesion, but this was
successfully treated with radio-surgery. I also had radiation therapy
to eliminate some lingering cancer in my humerus.
At the end of the two years, I had expected to stop ipilimumb
treatment. After all, I had been receiving ipilimumab for two years,
and the standard treatment for melanoma patients is four doses
over the course of a year. However, the trial was extended for a
number of individuals, including me, who had responded well to
treatment. Because the goal is to determine whether continuing
ipilimumab treatment provides benefit, I still receive ipilimumab
Because I am benefiting so much from a clinical trial, I do
everything I can to help move clinical research forward. In fact, I
participated in clinical trials testing new advances in radio-surgery
and radiotherapy during the course of my treatment.
I wish I had not had this experience, but I have, and I want people
to understand that cancer is manageable, even deadly cancers like
mine, and that there are reasons to be optimistic, even in the face of
tough prognoses. The speed of progress in cancer research is such
that the situation for patients can change very quickly. But to keep
up the momentum, government needs to step up and fund cancer
research in a much bigger way.