“Get your affairs in order…now!” With these six devastating words, my life as a husband, father, grandfather and Miami trial attorney changed forever.
In 2010, my wife Maggie, noticed what we thought was an ingrown hair on my back and told me that I needed to go see my dermatologist. The results were terrifying. I had Stage 2A melanoma. When you hear the word cancer – another horrible word – there is a sense of disbelief…of shock… of “why me?”
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the Centers for Disease Control, melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. Every hour of every day, one American dies of melanoma. The ACS estimates that over 90,000 new melanomas will be diagnosed in 2019 with over 10,000 deaths expected. Melanoma is one of the most common cancers in young adults, especially young women. While you are reading my story, someone has died from melanoma and ten people will be diagnosed.
In 2012, I felt pain in my stomach and was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic melanoma. We consulted with three of the top melanoma doctors in this country and everyone said the same thing: “There’s no hope. The cancer is in your gastro track. We’re very sorry.” Their prognosis – “terminal” — was devastating.
Fear now ruled my life. Fear of how I would suffer. Fear of what would happen to my wife, Maggie; to our family of seven children between us; to our combined three grandsons. I was so consumed by fear I couldn’t even bring myself to buy more than one razor blade at a time!
Surgery to prolong my life by a month or so was offered. I declined in order to take Maggie on one last vacation. We were going to Israel. While in Jerusalem, I was fortunate that a Hadassah Life Member from Miami made an appointment for me to see Dr. Michal Lotem, Head of the Hadassah Melanoma and Cancer Immunotherapy Center (HMCIC) at the Sharett Institute of Oncology at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem.
The HMCIC offers two vaccine immunotherapies – unique in the world – aimed at strengthening the patient’s immune response to a tumor: autologous vaccine (prepared with the cells from the patient’s own tumor); allegenic vaccine (prepared from a tumor cell line generated at the Center). The vaccinated cells trigger the patient’s immune system to seek out and destroy the cancer cells only. I call these cells my “PAC-man cells.” I had 21 injections over a 90-day period.
After my initial treatment period, I received boosters periodically to keep my immune systems revved up. Sometimes I feel like I have a civil war waging inside of me – but so far, the good guys are winning!
Today, under Dr. Lotem’s guidance, Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem is striving to utilize immunotherapy vaccines for other solid tumor cancer as well as blood cancers.
Seven years later, I have hope. Hope for a cure. Hope for our family. Hope that Maggie and I can help others with a melanoma diagnosis find their way to Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem.
Today, my wife Maggie and I are raising national awareness about this deadly disease and offer hope for treatment and recovery. I no longer ask, “Why me?” Now I ask, “Why not every cancer patient in the world?”
Maggie and I have dedicated ourselves to raising U.S. dollars for Hadassah’s Research in Service to Humanity Program Campaign (SPG-HMO DrLotem), which will allow Dr. Lotem to expand her research and vaccine therapy to the next level – using the immunotherapy vaccination protocol to fight many other forms of cancer, including colon, prostate, pancreatic, ovary, lung, kidney and blood cancers. I am grateful to the women and men of Hadassah Medical Organization who have been bringing state-of-the-art health care to Israel for over 100 years. For more information, visit: