In 2011, golf professional Randy Jones had a satisfying career and a loving wife with three kids. Life was good.
But a series of seemingly unrelated events eventually brought him to MD Anderson.
“I really believe in fate and divine intervention moments,” Randy says. “To this day, the whole thing still kind of gives me chills.”
Magazine article prompts dermatologist visit
The journey began with Randy’s wife, Mackie, urging him to see a dermatologist.
“I’m a fair-skinned guy with a lot of freckles,” he says. “It’s my job to be outside, but I’d never been to a dermatologist in my life.”
After the birth of their third child, Randy spied an article on melanoma while flipping through a parenting magazine. He began reading the story, which was about a mother of two young children whose husband suddenly passed away from skin cancer.
“Something about it just hit home, so I called my wife and got the name of her dermatologist,” Randy says.
Randy’s melanoma diagnosis
The dermatologist told Randy his skin looked great, but did shave biopsies on two or three moles just to be safe. He also performed a punch biopsy on a fourth mole that looked abnormal.
“I thought, ‘Alright. I’m finally doing my due diligence. This should get my wife off my back,’” Randy says.
Only the punch biopsy turned out to be melanoma.
“Man, I really didn’t know what to do,” Randy says. “I think ‘cancer’ must be the scariest word in the English language. I got the shakes.”
Second opinion brings Randy to MD Anderson
Randy was referred to a surgical oncologist, who removed the mole and a sentinel lymph node to be on the safe side.
But the lymph node tested positive for cancer, too. Randy was referred to another doctor for additional surgery, but he didn’t feel comfortable with that physician. His wife encouraged him to seek a second opinion at MD Anderson.
A family decision
At MD Anderson, Jeffrey Gershenwald, M.D., performed a groin dissection, removing 22 additional lymph nodes. Only one showed evidence of cancer, and it was microscopic.
“We decided as a family, with my pastor’s help, not to take the interferon I was offered after surgery,” Randy says. “People who take it can feel really sick, and if the melanoma returned, I wanted to have a good quality of life with my wife and kids now.”
Gershenwald kept a sharp eye on Randy, with regular checkups every three months. Those were gradually bumped back to four-month intervals, then five and six. At his January 2015 checkup, Gershenwald said he could move to an every-12-month schedule if his scans came back clear.
Then Randy got home and noticed blood in his urine. The melanoma had metastasized to his right kidney.
“That’s what I consider a divine intervention moment,” Randy says. “Stage IV melanoma doesn’t usually give you a symptom until it’s too late. But I peed blood.”
Paying it forward
Three days later, Randy was back at MD Anderson. Under the care of Adi Diab, M.D., a tumor in his kidney was removed and Randy started an eight-week clinical trial combining chemo and an immunotherapy called Ipilimumab. When an additional tumor was found on his brain, he switched to Taflinar. A few months later, Mekinist was added. Randy took those drugs until February 2016, then stopped them and began an IV immunotherapy called Keytruda, which he’s still on. He also had cryoablation, which froze another tumor near his kidney, and gamma knife radiation applied to the brain tumor.
Today, Randy shows no evidence of disease. But because of his experience, he encourages fellow golf pros to use sunscreen daily and to get their skin checked regularly.
“I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to have to go through what I have,” he says. “If I can save even one life, it will be worth it.”