August 16, 2016
Facing melanoma while pregnant
BY Lany Kimmons
Katie Herwig was just 26 years old when a bump on her back started bothering her. She scheduled an appointment with her doctor, who removed it and sent it for a biopsy.
After the doctor asked her to come in to discuss the results, Katie learned that she had stage III melanoma.
“I couldn’t stop crying. It was the worst news I could imagine,” says Katie, who was 22 weeks pregnant with her first child at the time. She now had to worry about what would happen to her and her baby.
Katie’s initial melanoma treatment
That same day, she was sent to meet with an oncologist in Dallas. The doctor removed the growth on her back as well as lymph nodes under her arm, but due to her pregnancy, they couldn’t perform any scans. The doctors assured her that the baby would be OK, and she was. On July 27, 2008, Katie delivered a happy and healthy daughter.
Four weeks after delivery, Katie underwent four weeks of chemotherapy. She went to the hospital five days a week to receive the infusions. The treatment gave her fever, chills and nausea.
“The saddest part is that I don’t remember that month of my daughter’s life,” she says. After the four weeks of treatment, she continued injections at home for 11 months.
In 2014, she was six months past due for her annual scan when she felt a knot on her eyebrow. She went in for testing and learned the melanoma had metastasized to her ovaries, liver, lungs, small intestines, bones and abdomen.
Melanoma treatment at MD Anderson
Katie researched melanoma treatment online and talked to her family about what to do next. She learned that MD Anderson has a center dedicated to melanoma and made an appointment.
But before she ever arrived, she started having fever, chills and nausea. The doctors determined it was a small intestinal blockage, and she ended up having emergency surgery with her local oncologist. “I was in so much pain after that surgery that I wasn’t sure I’d make it to my first appointment at MD Anderson,” Katie says.
But she did. In August 2014, Katie met with her care team at MD Anderson. “They gave me the confidence I needed to beat cancer,” she recalls.
She started Tafinlar and the immunotherapy drug Yervoy to shrink the tumors. But when one of the tumors continued to grow, her doctor switched her to Keytruda, a different immunotherapy drug that targets T cells.
Today, Katie is doing well and returns to MD Anderson every three weeks for treatment. “I have the upmost confidence in my doctors and their team,” Katie says. “I know they have my best interest and want me to beat this!”
Living for today
Katie’s daughter is now 8 years old, and she’s very honest and forthcoming with her about the cancer.
“I try to live more in the moment now and create lasting memories for my daughter because I don’t know when my time might be up,” Katie says.
Raising awareness about melanoma
“I don’t want my daughter to live in fear of getting skin cancer, but I always make sure she has on sunscreen and gets checked by a pediatric dermatologist once a year,” she says.
As a child, Katie spent a lot of time outside. She often played sports, went to the beach and sunbathed. “But I never thought that I’d get the most aggressive form of skin cancer,” she says. That’s why she now she reminds everyone to wear sunscreen and get their skin checked.
On Sept. 17, Katie will be honored at the 2016 AIM for the CURE Melanoma Walk and Fun Run. “I hope that I can help at least one person going through this battle,” she says.
I try to live more in the moment now.