An Anniversary We’d Rather Forget

On this day two years ago, our family received the devastating news that Greg had “malignant melanoma.” We had no idea how much these two words would change our life. Many people have asked how we first found out that Greg had melanoma, so I thought today would be an appropriate day to share that story. Warning…it’s long!

About nine months before the diagnosis, Greg had noticed a very small “lump” under the skin in his left flank/side area. There was nothing visible on the skin, and there was no pain or discomfort associated with it. He didn’t really think much about it, but about six months later he noticed that it had started to get a little bigger. I mentioned that he might want to get it checked out, but he wasn’t real excited about that idea. I remained somewhat concerned about it, although we both figured it was nothing more than something like a lipoma or fatty tumor. It stayed on my mind and one night I awoke in the middle of the night with a sense of urgency that Greg should go to the doctor. That morning I called Greg at work and asked him to please make an appointment with a doctor, and I’m so thankful that he did. I have no doubt that it was the Holy Spirit that woke me and impressed upon my heart the need for Greg to get to a doctor. He went to his primary care doctor, who suspected that it might be an inflamed cyst of some sort. So, the doctor made a small incision, but there was no drainage and he said that it didn’t really act like a cyst. He then referred Greg to a surgeon.

We saw the surgeon and he agreed that it was probably a cyst and that it would be best to remove it so that it wouldn’t get infected. The surgery was scheduled for the next morning. (We were in the process of planning a cruise to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, so we were in a hurry to get this done and over with!) Surgery went fine and the surgeon came out while Greg was in recovery and said everything looks great, just an inflamed cyst, but we’ll send it to the lab for pathology as standard procedure. Greg woke up…we went home.

Six days later, I received the call from the surgeon saying that the pathology had come back as malignant melanoma. The surgeon was just as shocked as we were! That’s when our life became a whirlwind. The surgeon said we needed to see an oncologist immediately and he set up an appointment for us the next day. The oncologist confirmed that it was melanoma, and was very concerned that this was probably not the primary site, since melanoma is a skin cancer and typically starts somewhere on the skin. He examined Greg head to toe and could not find anything suspicious. Then he ordered a PET scan and brain MRI….these were both clear. We were then referred to a melanoma specialist at Emory.

On Oct.25, we met with the specialist at Emory. Although we really liked this doctor and all of the staff at Emory, we didn’t have a peace about their treatment plan. At this time we started doing research on other well-respected cancer treatment facilities. We decided to seek a second opinion at MD Anderson in Houston, Texas.

Greg’s first appointment at MDA was on Nov 22, 2011. At this point Greg was classified as having stage 3-4 metastatic melanoma with an unknown primary. It was decided that Greg would have another surgery at the original surgical site to establish clear margins and also to have a sentinel node biopsy.

The surgery was done at MDA on Dec 14, 2011. At that time 4 lymph nodes were removed in Greg’s groin area. On Dec 22, we received the news that all pathology from the surgery came back clear….great Christmas present!! At this point Greg had no evidence of disease anywhere in his body!

We continued to go out for routine scans every 3 months. At every check, all was clear…no evidence of disease! But at the 3 month check on Oct 16, 2012 the scans revealed two tumors…one on his heart and one on his right thigh. Greg was now at stage 4. In November, Greg began taking the oral chemo, Zelboraf. He took this until March, when they felt like it was beginning to lose its effectiveness.

On March 27, 2013 Greg had open heart surgery to remove the tumor on his right atrium. The surgery was a success and all of the tumor was removed with clean margins. It was a long, hard recovery, but all went well.

On May 4 we learned that the cancer had metastasized to Greg’s hip, femur, spine and ribs. Two weeks later, new tumors were found in Greg’s lungs, liver and adrenals. At this time, he started biochemotherapy and did four rounds, ending in August. In July, Greg started taking Dabrafenib, an oral chemo in between the biochemo cycles.

On Sept 4, all scans after the biochemo looked really good, not NED, but much improved. It was decided that Greg would start on Yervoy and he received his first infusion that day. Yervoy infusion #2 was received on Sept. 25, and infusion #3 is due next week on Oct. 16.

So…that was long, but that is where we are today. It’s good for me to have it all in one place now, so that I can refer back to it when I need to know the dates of what happened when. It has been a long, hard two years, but the Lord has been good and faithful to us throughout this journey.

Greg has continued to feel poorly today….back pain, on and off fever, and extreme tiredness. He continues to have a bad rash over most of his upper body. We have an appointment to go back to the dermatologist tomorrow for a follow-up and to get the results of the biopsy.

A BIG thanks to all of you that fasted and prayed for Greg today. It means so much to us that you would do that on our behalf. We are grateful for each of you!

At that time, people will say, “Look at what’s happened! This is our God! We waited for him and he showed up and saved us! This God, the one we waited for! Let’s celebrate, sing the joys of his salvation.” Is. 25:9

Trusting His Plan,
Greg, Sandra, Katie, Emilie and Jacob

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8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Dennis Pitts
    Oct 11, 2013 @ 00:17:37

    I am praying so hard for Greg and your entire family Sandra!!!
    Please tell Greg I think about him every day!!
    The peace of the Lord be with you!!!

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  2. Alicia Strickland
    Oct 11, 2013 @ 01:34:43

    Thank you Sandra, for continuing to update and putting this all together. This helps to put it in perspective and certainly makes us all think. You are such a great witness. Praying for all of you.

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  3. Michelle Plunkett
    Oct 11, 2013 @ 08:13:30

    Prayers going up, Sandra! Blessings!

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  4. Claudia
    Oct 11, 2013 @ 08:40:34

    Thank you for sharing this. Melanoma is a roller coaster. Continued prayers for all of you.

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  5. Ike Copper
    Oct 11, 2013 @ 12:34:37

    Thank you Sandra for this and all of your updates. You are truly amazing and I echo Alicia’s words 100%. You and your family are all excellent witnesses for Christ. Continuing to pray for Greg and all of you each day.

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  6. Gina Ramsey
    Oct 11, 2013 @ 13:44:11

    Thank you for this blog and for being such an example.

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  7. Valerie Martin
    Oct 11, 2013 @ 13:56:23

    We continue to lift you all up in prayer. God Bless

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  8. emilywalsh688
    Oct 31, 2013 @ 12:37:01

    Sandra, my prayers and thoughts continually go out to Greg. It’s great to see that he has such a great support system which can be unparalleled, despite medical advances. My name is Emily by the way and just had a quick question and was hoping you could email me back when you get the chance. Thanks so much!

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