Cancer is a frightening idea for anyone and melanoma is a prevalent form of skin cancer in Australia. When cancer gets to stage IV, it often becomes a deadly prospect. This is when the life-saving research that goes on at the Melanoma Institute Australia becomes absolutely crucial for individuals. Melanoma Institute Australia is a non-profit organisation dedicated to preventing and curing melanoma with innovative, world-class research, treatment and education programs; providing the newest treatments to those in need. Below is an example of the incredible work that they do.
Leigh Miller’s advanced melanoma diagnosis came as a complete surprise to him and his primary melanoma was never found. A young man with two small children, Leigh was told he had less than four months to live. His best hope was to join a clinical trial.
Being diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma was an incredible shock to me. It doesn’t run in the family and, to be honest, I have only been sunburnt a handful of times and never badly. I never thought this could happen to me.
Soon after my 29th birthday in September last year, I started to get dizzy spells. After a few weeks, I decided to see my GP who thought it might be the first stage of diabetes since it runs in my family. After receiving negative test results, the dizzy spells subsided so I just let it go.
About two weeks later I woke up and felt a lump near my groin. I thought it must be a hernia and headed back to the GP. He ruled out a hernia and thought it may be a swollen lymph node, so I had an ultrasound and a needle biopsy. The pathology report suspected a melanoma, but I’d have to have the lymph node removed to be sure.
I had day surgery at Westmead Private Hospital in late October. I wasn’t too worried as it was only ‘suspected melanoma’. However, the results came back worse than expected: I had Stage IV melanoma. That is when it really hit me that I had a major problem and was most likely not going to survive.
I was referred to the experts at Melanoma Institute Australia and saw Professor Georgina Long. After a number of scans, Professor Long told me that I had melanoma in the brain, liver, lungs and other parts of my body. Without any type of treatment, I’d be lucky to have between six and 16 weeks to live.
I was told chemotherapy and radiotherapy would not help me, and that my best hope was being treated with new drugs (combination immunotherapy) that is only available on a clinical trial. Professor Long managed to get me on the ABC Trial. I was number 69 out of the 75 spots available and felt very lucky.
While I was waiting to start treatment, the cancer quickly became more aggressive: I had more swollen lymph nodes all around my body, was in horrendous pain, struggled to breathe and even stand upright. I couldn’t sleep, my appetite was gone and I lost a lot of weight in a very short time. A day before I was due to receive my first treatment, I had so much trouble breathing that my wife rushed me to hospital where I spent the night.
After receiving three doses of nivolumab combined with ipilimumab, I received some amazing news: my scans showed most of my lesions were reduced to only 1 or 2mm in diameter or had disappeared altogether.
The only side effects I’ve had since starting treatment have been an inflamed liver which has not affected my physical ability. I have even been able to return to my full-time job. My family, friends and co-workers have all been there for me throughout the whole ordeal. They have been an incredible help to my wife and me doing things like babysitting, driving us to appointments, and even helping out with the day-to-day chores.
What shocks me the most is how quickly this all came about! This time last year, I was carrying on with my life as normal, working as a warehouse manager and raising a three year old and a one year old. Little did I know that melanoma was spreading inside me. This clinical trial has saved my life and I’m forever grateful to the team at Melanoma Institute Australia.