Brian whisked into my life unexpectedly. He had been diagnosed with early stage melanoma in August 2001, and we went on a blind date in November of the same year. Brian was always a charmer, and I fell head over heels in love with him. I was a single mom with two young daughters, and I could not have ever imagined the blessing he would be in our lives. Brian and I started our lives thinking that he was fine, and that the melanoma was gone. We were seriously uneducated and naive about the danger that lurked.
We were married in January 2003, built a house, had a son in February 2004, and continued to fall more deeply in love. Brian taught 7th grade at the middle school. Our lives were amazing, unbelievable, and almost too good to be true. We had plans, we had a future. We were going to take the kids and travel, grow old together, have another baby, and enjoy the love and happiness we had brought to each others’ lives.
The beast reared its ugly head again on April 1, 2005. Brian’s primary had been on the inside of his left calf. Now he could feel a lump on the inside of his left thigh, and it began to bruise. Preliminary tests showed it to be a blood clot; however, the local surgeon sent us packing with x-rays and MRI results back to Brian’s oncologist at Ellis Fischel Cancer Center in Columbia, MO (part of the University of Missouri).
Brian’s story unfolded from there. Surgery confirmed recurrence, and it seemed to have returned in mass quantity. Brian did biochemotherapy during the summer of 2005, to no avail, and eventually had a resection of the left thigh and groin in August. He then continued with radiation treatments to his leg. All was clear, so he opted to be a part of a GM-CSF trial. Subcutaneous tumors started popping up in May 2006, and he unblinded himself from the trial to find out he had received the placebo only.
From there, he had a few minor surgeries until a scan showed melanoma on the adrenal gland in July 2006. Brian opted to take IL-2 treatments, and endured 4 full weeks in hopes of putting the brakes on this progression. Follow-up scans in December 2006 showed the disease was growing like wildfire. We decided to get a 2nd opinion from M.D. Anderson, mostly because we were scared and hoping someone else would see something different than what the doctors in Columbia were seeing. At MDA, we were unable to agree on an aggressive treatment, as they strongly felt there would be a recurrence with anything. At that time, we also discovered a lesion on Brian’s brain, which disqualified him from several options. We returned to Ellis Fischel and stereotactic radiosurgery, followed a few weeks later in February 2007 with a complete resection of all tumors. The surgeon removed the spleen, gallbladder, omentum, adrenal gland, the fat behind the kidney, 2/3 of the pancreas and countless subcutaneous masses, both big and small.
April 2007 scans showed Brian to be clear of the disease. He had recently started taking GM-CSF off trial, and things were going well. Then at the beginning of June, he lost the use of his right side. Scans showed that the tumor in the brain was growing. A craniotomy showed that the radiation had actually killed a lot of the tumor, but part of it was growing, and all of it was swelling. Brian spent that summer in rehab, going from a wheelchair to a walker to a cane, and finally walking on his own by August.
The July 2007 scan was the most devastating. Tumors had popped up virtually everywhere they had been removed. We moved on to use Carboplatin and Taxol with Sorefinib. Midway scans showed moderate tumor growth, including swelling in the brain. Brian chose to try one more option. Starting in October, he received the compassionate use of MDX-010 (Ipilumimab). His health continued to decline, and he battled a severe staph infection in his leg. He could not walk and was mostly bedridden. We spent the last few days of 2007 in the hospital in Columbia, finding out that the tumors had grown over 50% larger since the fall. Brian decided it was time to stop fighting the cancer and strive for quality of life for whatever time he had left. We came home with Hospice on New Year’s Day.
We were blessed to have almost 3 more months together. Brian died in my arms on Good Friday, March 21, 2008 after spending the day with family and being loved on by our 11 and 8 year old daughters, and our 4 year old son.
Brian was a melanoma warrior. But melanoma did not define him. He was a kind and loving man, with hopes and dreams, so full of life. He was an amazing daddy and stepdad, and I could not have wanted more from him as a husband. He was as son, a brother, and an uncle. He touched many lives as a teacher and friend. We knew he would conquer melanoma somehow, either here or in Heaven. He is at peace, and for us, his family, the battle wages on to protect others from this dreadful disease.