BRIAN PINCKARD, a stage IV melanoma survivor, lives in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, with his family. In 2001, after 10 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Brian became an American Airlines pilot. Following Sept. 11, 2001, he began a second stint in the Marines. In 2006, Brian was diagnosed with melanoma and had surgery. The cancer recurred in 2011. After a second surgery, he began a year of interferon treatments. He retired from the Marines in 2012 and returned to American Airlines in 2013. A recurrence that year prompted Brian to enroll in a clinical trial combining immunotherapies Yervoy® (ipilimumab) and Opdivo® (nivolumab), which reduced and stabilized his cancer for three years. Here Brian describes how he came to MD Anderson.
"I don’t think I’d be alive if I hadn’t advocated for my own cancer treatment. I definitely wouldn’t be at MD Anderson Cancer Center receiving the world’s leading-edge cancer medicine. I’ve been blessed with support from family, friends and the community of patients I found through the Melanoma Research Foundation.
In 2015, after a scan found new growth, this forum proved invaluable when a friend told me about a trial in which he’d just enrolled. The trial, led by Dr. Cassian Yee, involved adoptive cellular therapy and sounded interesting. I traveled to MD Anderson and after talking with Dr. Hussein Tawbi, a melanoma expert, decided to enroll. Dr. Yee’s team took T cells from my circulating blood, selected the ‘best’ and modified them to be more inclined to latch onto melanoma cells. They grew the modified T cells until billions were ready to harvest. In December 2016, I received my new and improved T cells, my ‘bionic white cells,’ and a dose of Yervoy®. Three doses followed, three weeks apart. My tumors shrank for about six months after the first infusion and have been stable since. It appears the treatment has turned the tide in my immune system’s favor.
Four months after my infusion, a scan at MD Anderson found a spot on my brain. My doctors scheduled me for Gamma Knife® (a noninvasive procedure using stereotactic radiosurgery). Ten days later, an MRI showed the spot was gone. Dr. Yee and his team believe my immune system dissolved the cancer. The cool thing is that my ‘bionic white cells’ were still circulating a year after I received them. That’s an incredible result that gives hope for a durable response.