Brian Rose has battled melanoma for nearly three years. He has experienced multiple rounds of biochemotherapy, surgeries and radiation therapy, and participated in clinical trials. With a positive perspective and the support of his family and friends, Brian continues his journey one day at a time. He blogs about his cancer experience at www.howsbrian.com.
I had a mole on my forehead that changed in color and shape. My wife urged me to make an appointment to get it checked out. Looking back, when she put her foot down and demanded that I go to the doctor, she probably saved my life.
When I was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma in 2010, the world changed in the blink of an eye. I was 32 years old, I had no health insurance, and I was suddenly fighting for my life against a disease I knew nothing about. I had to do something and I had to do it fast.
Though my journey began at a small dermatology clinic in Cedar Park, Texas, and then my local oncology office, the real battle started the day my mom and I traveled to MD Anderson in Houston and turned onto Holcombe Boulevard for the first time. I still remember her asking, "Where is it?" To which I quickly replied, "It's EVERYWHERE!"
Take an active role in your care
Like most who have walked this path, I was nervous, anxious, intimidated, extremely vulnerable, confused, angry and, of course, scared beyond belief. I'd worked hard to get myself access to the care that I needed. I had done my own research on the disease and possible treatments.
I'd come to the realization that if I was only going to get one shot at beating this disease, MD Anderson was my best bullet.
I believe it's our obligation as patients to take an active role in our own care. Though not everything we read may be good news (or even true), we still have a responsibility to be proactive and educate ourselves. I don't want to simply be a patient; I want to be a part of the care team.
As a young adult, I wanted to act fast and take an aggressive approach to treatment. The "statistics" were not in my favor, but I didn't come to MD Anderson to talk about statistics. I came here to fight! From the moment I stepped into the Melanoma and Skin Center, I knew this is where I was supposed to be.
Passionate and knowledgeable experts
Jade Homsi, M.D., was the first doctor we met with at the care center. I'll admit that I was skeptical at first. He looked like he was only a few years older than me. I tend to like my doctors as I like my airplane pilots -- a little gray around the ears.
However, after just a few minutes of conversation with Dr. Homsi, it was easy to understand that this man was passionate and knowledgeable about his work.
My mom and I both felt a sense of relief and comfort after just our initial consultation.
What we didn't know at that time, and have come to realize and appreciate, was just how committed Dr. Homsi was to my personal well-being.
It's a marathon, not a sprint
After nearly two years of treatment, I think I've seen just about every corner of MD Anderson. My journey has taken me from the primary clinic, through all of the diagnostic centers and labs, and has included four inpatient rounds of biochemotherapy, multiple surgeries, three Gamma Knife treatments, five rounds of radiation therapy, and countless other consultations and visits.
I sometimes joke with my friends and family that I could give tours of MD Anderson, blindfolded. As patients, none of us want to be here; and we all know that 10 a.m. appointments probably mean more like 11:30 a.m. These waiting times can be perfect for starting a conversation with another patient or caretaker. I'm always amazed by how much we all have in common, even though we've never met.
For me, it's all about pace and patience. I understand that this is a marathon, not a sprint. I try and find something positive and inspiring about each and every day. You focus on the good and you let go of the bad. And you never forget about what it is you are fighting for.
Tools in the fight against cancer
I'm gearing up for a clinical trial, which involves the infusion of tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) that are programmed to locate and destroy melanoma cells (view trial details). MD Anderson is one of the only places in the world where patients can receive this treatment. Proof, again, that I'm right where I'm supposed to be.
MD Anderson has given my family and me a sense of true hope and optimism. These are powerful tools in the fight against cancer. It's almost a shame that one day, when my disease finally waves the white flag in defeat, I'll have to make that turn onto Holcombe Boulevard for the last time.
On second thought, never mind. I'll be doing cartwheels!