Metastatic melanoma survivor: 'Coming back to MD Anderson is a great feeling'
MD Anderson Staff
In May 2016, Victor Barreiro learned his melanoma, originally treated in his hometown of Mexico City in 2014, had returned and spread throughout his body. There were growths in his lungs, liver, spleen and brain – a total of 15 separate spots where cancer had spread, or metastasized.
Today, after metastatic melanoma treatment at MD Anderson, most of those growths are gone. The few that remain are just a fraction of their original sizes and aren’t growing.
Choosing MD Anderson for brain tumor surgery and metastatic melanoma treatment
When Victor found out his melanoma had spread, his doctors in Mexico offered treatment, but they recommended he go to a cutting-edge research hospital.
He first met with a neurosurgeon in Baltimore, who said removing that growth was a relatively straightforward procedure, but treating the disease throughout his body was the real challenge. So Victor decided to start interviewing oncologists. Two days later, Victor met with Hussein Tawbi, M.D., Ph.D., at MD Anderson.
“When I met him, everything was so clear to me,” says Victor. “Those moments when you’re diagnosed and you have to decide where to get your treatment are very stressful. Once you find the best place for your treatment, then you rest. It was a relief to find Dr. Tawbi – not only his warmth, his kindness, but also his amazing knowledge and his groundbreaking research.”
Since Victor’s brain metastasis presented the most immediate health risk, he underwent a craniotomy to remove the growth just one week after his first appointment at MD Anderson. Performed by Jeffrey Weinberg, M.D., the procedure addressed symptoms like confusion, seizures and trouble finding words. Victor then underwent Gamma Knife® stereotactic radiosurgery, which uses a powerful, focused beam of radiation to kill any remaining cancer cells.
Immunotherapy shrinks tumors
After a short recovery, Victor started a combination of two immunotherapy drugs to treat the rest of the metastases.
Rather than worrying about whether the treatment was working, he tried to keep life as normal as possible. He rented an apartment in Houston and brought his wife and children to live with him. He worked, went to museums, spent time with his family and strictly followed his care team’s exercise and nutrition instructions.
Victor underwent his first imaging exams just nine weeks into his immunotherapy regimen. This was sooner than planned, but he’d developed hepatitis – a condition treated with steroids that counteracted Victor’s immunotherapy medications. Still, Victor was hopeful and was not disappointed by the MRI results.
“What they found was a 30% reduction in tumor size across the board. That was incredible news to us and also our doctors because they knew the immunotherapy was acting positively in my body,” Victor says.
His tumors continued to shrink, and tests in January, April and July 2017 showed even better results: most tumors of the remaining had shrunk and were showing up as inactive in PET scans.
“Everybody was absolutely ecstatic,” Victor says. “We have strong religious beliefs in my family, and we were in constant prayer for my health. With these amazing results, we were certain that I had received a second opportunity to live.”
“A feeling of security”
Victor has now resumed his life in Mexico City. He hasn’t put his cancer journey in the past, though. He talks to newly diagnosed cancer patients about twice a week and works with MD Anderson’sInternational Center to help other international patients access the hospital.
He also returns to Houston every few months for follow-up tests to see if his condition has changed. While these visits are nerve-racking for some, Victor sees them in a positive light, no matter what the results show.
“Coming back to MD Anderson is a great feeling,” he says. “It’s a feeling of security, that I’m getting the correct treatment. Even if I get news that something is not exactly as the doctors would like it, I know I’m in the perfect and best place to be treated.”