When Josephine was in her mid-80s, she had a suspicious-looking mole on her left arm removed. Lab tests confirmed that Josephine had melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer. Her doctor removed the mole and the surrounding skin. Because the cancer had not spread to other parts of her body, Josephine didn’t require any additional treatment, so she went back to living her normal life.
A few years later, Josephine went in for a routine mammogram. The doctors found a lump in her breast, which, unfortunately, turned out to be stage IV melanoma, meaning the cancer had spread from her arm to her breast and other areas of her body as well. Stage IV melanoma is notoriously difficult to treat; patients like Josephine typically have only a 15-20 percent chance of surviving five years or more after diagnosis.
But Josephine did not give up hope. "I was never worried," says Josephine, who immediately set up an appointment with medical oncologist Shane Dormady, M.D., of the El Camino Hospital Cancer Center, to see what her treatment options were.
In March 2011, Josephine began taking temozolomide (Temodar) pills, a chemotherapy treatment for metastatic melanoma. Although temozolomide has shown some success in temporarily shrinking melanoma, according to the American Cancer Society, the results are short-term, at best.
But Josephine has done amazingly well in the past year; since she started taking temozolomide, her results have been astonishing. A PET scan in the fall of 2011 showed that the only cancer remaining in Josephine’s body was a small spot on her lung, which radiation oncologist Robert Sinha, MD, treated with CyberKnife, a non-invasive type of targeted radiation. A follow-up PET scan after the CyberKnife treatment showed that the cancer in her lung had completely disappeared as well.
So, today, much to everyone’s surprise, Josephine is entirely cancer-free. Although she cannot predict what the future may hold, she has gone back to living her life, spending time with family and taking water-exercise classes at the YMCA to stay active.
And, in March 2012, Josephine will celebrate her 90th birthday! She has invited Dr. Dormady to join her at the party. “Dr. Dormady has been so good to me,” says Josephine. “He is a great doctor.”
Here’s to hoping Josephine has a wonderful birthday celebration, and many, many more birthdays to come!