My 20-year-old son Charles (Trey) Rood III is a junior at the University of Georgia. He was diagnosed with stage III melanoma when he was just 15 years old.
Trey waged many battles in his long war against cancer until two years ago when, as a stage IV melanoma patient, he was treated with adoptive T-cell therapy, or TIL therapy, at MD Anderson.
Soon after, we saw signs of improvement suggesting that Trey was finally winning the fight. Today he is enjoying his busy life at college just like any other student.
Finding an effective melanoma treatment
Trey's war started in 2007, when he found the lump behind his right ear that led to his initial diagnosis. He had a lymph node dissection in Atlanta in surgery that revealed two more lymph nodes with metastatic melanoma.
Over the next year, Trey received interferon therapy. But in June 2009, a scan showed tumors in his left lung. That meant the melanoma had progressed to stage IV.
At the time, there were few options for a stage IV melanoma patient Trey's age: either interleukin-2 (IL-2) or surgery. Every trial that we considered required that the patient be at least 18; Trey was a year younger. We knew how tough IL-2 could be, and if Trey had his left lung removed, there was a chance the cancer could be lurking elsewhere.
In January 2010, PET scans showed more tumors in both lungs and the rib area.
In February, we went to Houston to meet Dr. Patrick Hwu, chair of MD Anderson's Melanoma Medical Oncology Department. We agreed to start IL-2 therapy later that month.
Melanoma spread to the brain
But after we returned to Georgia, Trey's right peripheral vision suddenly blacked out. An MRI showed two walnut-sized tumors in his brain, and Trey returned to MD Anderson for a brain craniotomy.
After a break at home for his 18th birthday, Trey returned for Gamma Knife stereotactic radiation, and soon after, started IL-2 therapy.
Trey's cancer didn't respond to the IL-2. So, Dr. Hwu tried to start him in other trials. But scans showed more brain metastases, and Trey underwent more Gamma Knife radiation therapy.
Subcutaneous tumors started appearing all over Trey's body. Dr. Hwu resected three for his team to use in another attempt to grow T-cells.
Finally, some good news
Shortly thereafter Trey started IL-2, we got good news: His T-cells had grown and multiplied, and he'd been randomized to receive his T-cells with dendritic cell therapy.
By mid-July, Trey was back at MD Anderson to start five days of harsh chemotherapy, then T-cell infusion, dendritic cell infusion and a couple rounds of IL-2. Within weeks, his subcutaneous tumors started to disappear.
In August 2010, Trey moved into his freshman dorm at college. He enjoyed an active college life, with few lingering side effects other than some memory loss.
Trey took just one more trip to Houston, for Gamma Knife treatment for a trailing brain metastasis.
By early 2011, only five or six months after his treatment, all of his tumors had shrunken. Today, Trey is two years out from T-cell therapy, enjoying life as a normal, active student.
I'm so proud of him for demonstrating courage, strength, and a wonderfully positive attitude in the face of very difficult circumstances.
All throughout this exhausting endeavor, my son has tried to help others by sharing testimonies of his cancer journey and his sustaining faith. If you met him today, Trey would tell you cancer is in his past.