Welcome to Justin's Personal Page
I'm riding to raise funds that support cancer research at Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center.
And if you're reading this, you probably already know my story, but for those who don't here we go:
I was diagnosed with Melanoma in mid-2014. I'm not a sun-worshipper so I never really though about skin cancer. I've gotten sunburns like almost everyone else, but never anything serious or a regular occurence. One day, I broke a toenail on my left foot and it never healed. After several doctors visits, they found a spot on my toe (so docs think it wasn't sun related). It was just below the part where your toenail grows out from your skin. I had no idea even a spot was there until I injured my toenail and went to the doc, who sent me to a podiatrist who suspected possible melanoma. It weirdly cracked and then the nail would not grow back which was weird. So, I went to the doc to get in checked out.
The podiatrist did an initial biopsy and it came back clean (no melanoma) and so we tried a few other therapies but nothing worked. Fortunately, my Podiatrist was concerned and fast acting but felt that the spot he saw was concernign and wanted to do a simple surgery to remove the it. It was persistant even in the face of a negative test and obviously that was crucial. I had that done in May of 2014. That came back as melanoma and he sent me off to Penn Medicine in Philly - Fortunately, I lived very close to the hospital/cancer center.
There, we met with our first doctor at Penn, a plastic surgeon, who was, if nothing else, an interesting experience (he was good too!). My wife describes this story in better detail: https://bethanyjustin.blogspot.com/2015/02/medical-people.html
There, they removed the top half of my toe and identified the cancer as being fairly deep (4.3mm comes to mind - many have been deeper but on the scale, this was considered the worst case scenario). They also did a Sentinal lymph node biopsy to check if it had spread to my lymph node system. This was July of 2014 - it had spread, so I was dxed Stage III. I had a full left groin lymph node excision a few weeks later and they found 3 (out of 20) areas with cancer in my nodes. PET scan did not show any spreading though.
My next scan in October of 2014 showed a cancer in a lymph node in the back of my pelvis (near kidney) and I had another excision around there and removed 17 nodes - 5 contained cancer. I was also experiencing some weird chest pain (like post-workout pain where it was tight) and shoulder pain.
We completed some new scans in December of 2014 which were intended to be a new baseline post-surgery. PET showed spots on my chest bone structure (sternum, back, ribs, collar bone), femur and liver. I was DXed stage IV on December 23, 2014 - 2 days before Christmas.
Spoiler alert: I'm not dead.
So. I began treatment with Yervoy - from Jan-March of 2015. This is about the time Bethany started her blog - she's got some pretty heartbreaking moments discussed on there:
My results from yervoy were mixed and my doc pushed me onto a new drug, Keytruda. 2 scans (3 month intervals - july and october) while on Keytruda showed stable cancer - the liver metastasis, known to be stubborn, might have gotten larger. Arguably larger, but perhaps inflammation (which is good for some immunotherapy treatment). My bone metastasis was weird, as the spots turned white and were very active metabolically, suggesting either a lot of cancer or new bone growth (over dead bone caused by cancer). That could be good or bad. Generally, doctors marked me down as stable - I still had cancer, but not real growth that they noted.
Stability is a tie and a tie is a win in the world of cancer. But I was still disheartened that this treatment, one which has drastically improved survival rates, was not eliminating my cancer.
Then, just days after Christmas of 2015, my PET scan revealed a complete metabolic response to the drug - there was no evidence of active cancer. As of right now, i have no evidence of the disease as far as they can tell. That's not a cure - nothing really is, but this could be the start of as close as you can to it.
When my disease was progressing, it was painful. There was a point where I couldn't sit or stand for more than several minutes. I would come home and immediately go to bed just to lie down. My back was in such pain, it was unbearable. When I began the Yervoy, my doc was happy because it almost immediately eliminated my pain.
Since then, I had about 2 years of NEAD. A small blip on the radar and a subsequent surgery point us right back into it, but since April I've been NEAD again. Almost 4 years, still here.
People describe cancer as a battle and for many it is. For me, I just don't have another choice. As Woody Allen once said, "80 percent of life is showing up," and I keep showing up.
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