By Shaun Sweet
In January 2007, I had a mole removed from my right shoulder that led to my diagnosis of melanoma.
Within six months, I had become a stage IIIC melanoma patient who had had two surgeries, one month of high-dose interferon and one month of interferon as self-injected shots.
In January 2008, tests showed the melanoma had spread to my liver and the lymph node in my neck. I was now diagnosed with stage IV melanoma.
My oncologist in Michigan was willing to fight as long as I wanted. However, I wasn't given any hope of surviving.
I was advised to go on disability and get my affairs in order. I was 43 years old, with a wife and two young daughters. As far as I was concerned, death wasn't an option.
A close friend of mine told me he knew someone who had been diagnosed with stage IV melanoma, had been treated at MD Anderson, and was now doing fine.
The day after my diagnosis, that person came to our house and recommended MD Anderson.
The hope we were given because of that visit was a blessing.
Melanoma treatment options
In February of 2008, I started biochemotherapy treatment under the care of Dr. Kevin Kim at MD Anderson. My wife and I were transplanted to Houston for 5 months.
I knew the biochemotherapy had worked for the person who had recommended MD Anderson to us, and I hoped it would also be successful for me.
However, on a return visit to MD Anderson in January 2009, my scans showed the melanoma had once again grown in my liver, and had spread to my chest cavity and spine.
Dr. Kim told me about the T-cell study, and explained how the therapy was designed to work: immune T-cells would be taken from my tumors, and researchers would try to grow and multiply them to billions of cells in the laboratory, and then reintroduce them into my body to attack tumor cells in conjunction with interleukin-2 therapy.
I joined the trial, and this time, my wife and I were transplanted to Houston for about 3 months.
My MD Anderson team is part of the family
Both extended stays in Houston -- away from our home in Michigan, our two concerned daughters, supportive relatives, and caring friends -- could've been unbearable.
However, Dr. Kim and the entire MD Anderson team not only took care of me -- they also looked after my wife.
Everyone always took the time to talk to us, not just to ask about our physical needs, but about our life outside the hospital, apart from my experience as a melanoma patient.
To this day, when we make return trips for check-ups, they know who we are and ask how things are with us -- not just the disease. Today, my wife and I regard our MD Anderson team as family.