In the summer of 2012, doctors removed a mole from Vince Leseney’s shoulder. After a biopsy, the musical theater voice instructor and actor was diagnosed with stage IIIB melanoma.
Vince was devastated when his doctors in Oklahoma said there wasn't much that they could do to treat melanoma. But when one of Vince’s former students heard about his diagnosis, she introduced him to her father, Jagan Sastry, M.D., a professor in Immunology at MD Anderson. Sastry insisted that he travel to Houston and meet Patrick Hwu, M.D., who then headed up MD Anderson’s Melanoma department.
First impressions of MD Anderson
Upon arriving at MD Anderson, Vince was in awe of the sheer size of the facility and the kindness of the people. “Every person I interacted with was so helpful and friendly,” he says.
The same was true for Dr. Hwu, who immediately gave Vince confidence that his cancer could be treated. Vince knew that Dr. Hwu – now head of MD Anderson’s largest academic division, Cancer Medicine -- was extremely busy, but he’s never missed an appointment. “I think there might be two of him,” Vince jokes.
Vince’s melanoma treatment at MD Anderson
To develop Vince’s personalized melanoma treatment plan, Dr. Hwu ordered additional testing and scans. Although the initial scans didn’t show any metastases, further testing revealed tumors in Vince’s brain and lungs.
“Initially, I panicked,” Vince says. “But with the support of my care team, I quickly shifted into fight mode. I knew I was in good hands. Dr. Hwu’s confidence helped me feel more prepared and more optimistic than fearful.”
As part of his treatment plan, Vince underwent two gamma knife surgery procedures, three types of chemotherapy and multiple immunotherapy treatments.
Now, Vince makes the seven-hour drive to Houston every three weeks to receive an infusion of the immunotherapy drug Pembrolizumab. “My current treatment is very easy compared to what others are going through, so I never complain,” Vince says.
His tumors are now “almost immeasurably small,” and his outlook is bright. “I do experience fatigue in the days right after treatment, and I have a lot of itchiness,” Vince says. “Dr. Hwu says that that is the Pembrolizumab doing its thing. So I consider the fatigue and itchiness a very small price to pay.”
Lessons from a cancer diagnosis
On Sept. 26, Vince will be bringing his musical talents to MD Anderson when he sings the national anthem and is honored at the 2015 AIM for the CURE Melanoma Walk and Fun Run. Though he was shocked when he was contacted to be one of the honorees, Vince says he’s thankful to share the honor with fellow patients and caregivers.
As he tells other cancer patients, “Don't live like a patient. No matter how sick you are, find a way to maintain even the smallest shred of normalcy. Accept help and welcome the love and support of your families, friends, and, of course, the good people of MD Anderson.”
Melanoma is one of the cancers MD Anderson is focusing on as part of our Moon Shots Program to dramatically reduce cancer deaths. Learn more about our Melanoma Moon Shot.