May is Melanoma Awareness Month

(The following article was written by Brian C Landers (mr_eleven).

Last May I wrote a Cover Page article for Badger & Blade detailing my Stage 4 Melanoma battle (read it here). Since then a lot has happened as any cancer patient will tell you, yet my story has become quite unique and very powerful.

As little as 5 years ago I would have been given a prognosis in months given the size and amount of tumors in my body. Yet today I am almost cancer free and expected to live a long and healthy life because of my body’s response to new immunotherapy drugs that increase the strength of immune responses against tumors.

Because of my almost complete response to these drugs I’ve worked closely with The University of San Francisco (where I receive my care) to become a cancer spokesperson. I have appeared in several television and online news articles and was interviewed on Michael Krasny’s Forum on NPR. I’ve been a patient spokesperson at several melanoma doctor/patient symposiums, and most recently was the subject of a large advertising campaign for UCSF and was plastered onto billboards and bus stops all over San Francisco.

Yet my story is of a small minority as only 30% of patients on the drug therapy I’m on show a positive response, and less than 1% show the kind of complete response I have had. Although cancer care has made some remarkable strides in the past few years, much more work is still needed, which is why everyone must take precautions to protect themselves from the sun’s harmful UV rays.

The easiest thing you can do is to use a good quality sunscreen. I’ve become somewhat of a sunscreen expert and have several brands that I use with great results. For everyday use Nutrogena’s line of sunscreens are recommended universally by dermatologists. If I’m going to be active, say on a bike ride or on the golf course then I use sunscreens from Sun Bum, a line of sunscreens endorsed by many pro surfers. Their stuff is quite water resistant and and does not sting my eyes when I sweat.

Another important precaution is to see your dermatologist once a year and to give yourself regular skin examinations (see below). 20 years ago my first skin cancer diagnosis was caught “accidentally” when my primary care doctor spotted a suspicious mole on my chest during my yearly physical. I can’t stress how important regular skin examinations are, especially if you spend regular time in the sun.

And lastly, please be conscious of the time you and your loved ones spend in the sun. Unfortunately the damaged caused by the sun’s UV rays is cumulative and cannot be undone. Plan ahead and apply sunscreen beforehand, and wear appropriate clothing. Keep hats and sunscreen in your car or in a EDC bag and try to keep the majority of your sun exposure in the early morning or late afternoon/evening.

I know how fortunate I am, and how amazing my response to therapy has been. Yet, it all remains a struggle I will have to manage for the rest of my life. For almost 2 years now I get an infusion every 3 weeks and get a full-body PET/CT scan every 12 weeks. I’m expected to stay on therapy until early 2017 however I will require new PET/CT scans for the rest of my life to make sure I’m still cancer free.

So it’s for exactly these reasons why I write these articles and appear on TV and radio and allow my picture and story to be used for advertising and education. To help other’s understand there is much we can do to prevent something like this from happening to ourselves, or our loved ones. Thank you.

Brian C Landers


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