Why a melanoma survivor chose an immunotherapy clinical trial
Erica Di Pierro, Ph.D.
In the middle of 2014, Daron Gribble received some unexpected news: a persistent sore spot under his right cheekbone had tested positive for nodular melanoma. When his local dermatologist urged him to find an oncologist, he knew exactly where to turn. Daron’s sister, a nurse in the Houston area, referred him to her close friend, Randal Weber, M.D., chair of Head and Neck Surgery at MD Anderson.
“Dr. Weber’s compassion reassured me that I was in good hands,” Daron says. “He came up with a plan and laid out the options for me.
Soon thereafter, Weber performed surgery to remove all traces of malignant tissue from Daron’s jaw, devised a strategy to monitor for recurrence and sent Daron back to his busy life in north Texas.
Immunotherapy clinical trial provides hope
Unfortunately, a routine CT scan in late 2015 showed the melanoma had come back and spread to his right lung. Weber presented Daron with three options: chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, or an immunotherapy clinical trial involving inhibitors of IDO-1 and PD-L1. Driven by a strong desire to keep his oilfield services business running and to be present for his family, Daron opted for the clinical trial.
“I chose immunotherapy for one main reason: I knew I would recover quickly after each treatment, and the quality of life would allow me to work,” he says.
Daron’s care was coordinated by Hussein Tawbi, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of Melanoma Medical Oncology, and Aung Naing, M.D., associate professor of Investigational Cancer Therapeutics. He began the first of 24 intravenous treatments in February 2016, and was able to continue working with the ceaseless support of his wife, who drove him back and forth to Houston every other Wednesday.
Over the next 13 months of treatment, Daron’s MD Anderson care team became his extended family.
“My family at MD Anderson steered me through the most challenging year I’ve ever had,” he says. “Everyone from the nurses drawing my blood every Wednesday morning to Dr. Naing’s targeted therapy group and clinical staff — their compassion and dedication helped sustain me during this journey.”
Giving back to MD Anderson
Daron’s cancer responded well to the immunotherapy, and today he is feeling healthier than ever. Most importantly, he’s not afraid of another recurrence.
“Dr. Naing said at my last appointment that we’ve got a bunch of other options to try,” he says.
To give back to the MD Anderson community, Daron contributes to Polo on the Prairie, an annual event in Albany, Texas. It features a world-class polo match, live music and barbecue, and proceeds benefit cancer research and patient care programs at MD Anderson. The event is even more meaningful for Daron following his cancer experience. This year’s event is slated for April 29.
“My goal is to continue the rest of my life being a fan of MD Anderson and sharing that with those who need this experience to survive,” he says. “I believe that the doctors and staff are all there for a reason, and they are second to none.”