I'm Deborah and I'm The Answer To Cancer


I'm Deborah, and my melanoma journey began in 2013. In 2014, a scan found spots on my lungs. I began ipilimumab but my treatment was halted because it induced colitis. I am currently receiving a targeted therapy and as of early 2017, my condition is stable.

Deborah W. was 41 when she was first diagnosed with stage III melanoma. After she was treated at NYU's Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center with surgery and radiation, her team Dr. Anna Pavlick, Dr. Richard Shapiro, and Dr. Nicholas Sanfilippo continued to keep a close eye on her. When her cancer returned two years later, Deborah joined a study examining the effect of combining radiation with the immunotherapy ipilimumab (Yervoy). She is now on a targeted therapy and working as a freelance translator and librarian while caring for her two sons. All the while Deborah maintains her sense of humor and blogs about her experience at I'll Live.

I was diagnosed with melanoma in April 2013. For pretty much all of my initial melanoma treatment, I approached it as all a big mistake- this wasn't my life, and the sooner that this "phase" would be over, the better. Rejecting the identity of cancer patient was important to me, but also made my visits to the cancer center more unpleasant!

In September 2014 a biopsy showed I had metastatic melanoma. I now realized it was no longer possible to keep rejecting my life with cancer.

At the time my boys were 8 and 5. I was very upfront with them about cancer, which in my case was very easy since they had no prior experience with it to color their reaction. When I told them about the metastasis, they couldn't wait to finish talking about it and get back to building with Legos. When I talk about my medication now, it is "the medicine that keeps the cancer away." I'm so grateful it can be like that.

It's sort of like thunderstorms- when I had my first child, I decided I would try really hard to have him not be afraid of thunderstorms, because I never really was. It seems like one of those fears that are imposed on a kid by those around them who keep asking, "Are you scared?" when perhaps it had never occurred to them to even be scared of it. So my boys and I actually enjoy watching storms. No one is cowering under a blanket.

I was offered a chance to take part in a research study that combined radiation and the immunotherapy ipilimumab (Yervoy) to see whether the radiation would boost the effectiveness of the drug. I was randomly selected to receive both.

After the second dose, in November 2014, I began suffering from digestive issues and my treatment came to a halt. I had colitis for three agonizing weeks, and started on steroids to stop the immune response that had made me so sick. This meant an end to my treatment with ipilimumab.

Even though I couldn't complete the course, my smallest tumors had disappeared, and the larger ones shrank by almost a whole centimeter. In April of 2015, my CT scan showed no evidence of disease in my lungs. The tumors were completely gone. Unfortunately, that same week I began having difficulty finding words and an MRI found tumors in my brain.

I was immediately put on a targeted therapy, dabrafenib and had gamma knife surgery. The dabrafenib began shrinking the tumors and since then my scans have gotten progressively better. I now remain on combination therapy with dabrafenib and trametinib and my CT remains clear with no activity on my MRI.

In my blog, I say I don't have a road map for cancer. I'm the first in my family to develop a malignant one, so I didn't know going in how I might be expected to act, and I've been learning that others have their own expectations of how cancer goes, and how the cancer patient is.

For now, I continue to take the targeted therapy. Sometimes my journey has felt like Alice in Wonderland meets science fiction.

The science around treatment for metastatic melanoma is exploding and has allowed me to lead a pretty normal life.