At t h e end o f 20 0 9, wh en my melanoma spread to new areas of my skin, I felt like I was out of options. But my wife refused to give
up and found out about a clinical trial testing a
new type of treatment, an immunotherapy that
is injected into individual melanoma lesions.
I jumped at the chance to enroll in the trial,
and thankfully, it was a success for me. As far
as I’m concerned, I’m cured. I feel so confident
that I’m hoping to be around to hold my great-grandchildren in my arms; my grandsons are
still only 13 and 10.
I have spent most of my life outdoors. I was in the
golf course industry for 36 years and worked on
our farm in my spare time and since my retirement
in 2006. I never wore a hat, and I’m sure that is
one reason why I developed melanoma. Since my
diagnosis, I always wear a hat and take great care
to protect my skin from the sun.
It all started in the summer of 2008 when I
noticed a scab on the top of my head. It wouldn’t
go away, so my wife encouraged me to see a
dermatologist. I had a biopsy done at my first
appointment, and it was just days later that I got
a call from the dermatologist who told me that I
I didn’t know much about melanoma—I knew
it was skin cancer, but that was all. I immediately
started looking on the internet for the cure for
melanoma. I couldn’t find one, and that was when
I realized how serious things were.
My wife and I looked at my options, and we
decided together that I would go to Memorial
Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York for
treatment. I had surgery to remove the melanoma
lesions on my head and the surrounding skin.
During the surgery, they removed an area of
skin that was about 4 inches in diameter, but
they covered that with a skin graft taken from
the inner part of my left thigh.
Less than a year later, some melanoma lesions
appeared inside the skin graft. Surgery was not
an option, so I had radiation treatment. I went
three times over a 6-week period. The lesions
Six months later, however, four melanoma
lesions appeared on my forehead, outside the
area of radiation.
At this point, the doctor told me there were no
localized treatment options; chemotherapy was
my only choice. Fortunately, my wife, who works
in the area of drug approvals, learned about a
clinical trial at St. Luke’s University Hospital in
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, through a business
acquaintance. The trial was testing a new local
treatment for melanoma called T-Vec (Imlygic).
We immediately made an appointment with the
doctor at St. Luke’s, and 3 weeks later, by which
time two more lesions had appeared, I received
my first treatment with T-Vec. I went for treatment
every 2 weeks from January 2010 to April 2010.
Each time, the T-Vec was injected directly into
each melanoma lesion. At the end of that time,
all of the lesions had disappeared.
One reason I am confident that my treatment
with T-Vec was successful is that about 2 months
after my final injections, I felt a lump on my neck
the size of a dime. It was a lymph node, and a
biopsy showed that although there were some
viable melanoma cells present, most of the
melanoma cells present were dead.
The T-Vec injected into the lesions in my skin
had activated my immune system such that it could
attack the melanoma in my lymph node. Erring on
the side of caution, my doctors suggested I have
several injections of T-Vec into the melanoma
lesions in my lymph node. When a follow-up
biopsy found all the melanoma cells were dead, I
had the lymph node surgically removed.
Since then, I’ve been free of melanoma. I do
have CT scans every 6 months and see my local
dermatologist and the dermatologist at St. Luke’s
every 6 months, but my health is good. I feel very
blessed to be around and credit the incredible
support from my wife. During my experience,
she was a huge pillar to lean on. She had every
confidence in the world that T-Vec was going to
work, and it has. I couldn’t be more thankful for
her support or more grateful for the research and
clinical trial that led me to T-Vec because without
it, I would not be here.
BOB RIBBANS // AGE 67 // RINGOES,