Skin Cancer and Modern Medicine
Mike Hyder, Global Vegetable Seeds Control Tower Process Lead, Crop Science Division, Bayer U.S.
In September 2017, I went to my primary doctor for a routine check-up and I asked about a spot on the side of my face. He looked at it and told me not to worry. I didn’t think anything else about it until one morning in October when I cut the mole when I was shaving.
After that, I decided to get a second opinion. A dermatologist in my area took a core sample of the site and discovered melanoma. They didn’t get the margins, so I had to have surgery. I met with a plastic surgeon and the doctor who would remove cancer from my face. They decided to remove a lymph node as well to be sure they got it. I left the surgery with 12 stitches across my face and a scar that will forever be present. I was thankful they got it all.
At that time, I had been doing regular check-ups, chest X-rays, and bloodwork every four months to ensure the cancer had not returned. In September I went to the oncologist when my cancer indicator in my blood dehydrogenase went from 174 to 214. No one made a big deal out of it, so I didn’t worry much. Unfortunately, I was also diagnosed with diabetes because my blood sugar was in the 300s.
In October 2019, I began having pain in my left leg, I thought I had torn something. I went to my primary physician again to get it checked. He said it was a pulled muscle and to take ibuprofen, ice and elevate it. I did that for several weeks, and it only got worse. In early November, they took X-rays but could see nothing wrong. The doctor sent me for an MRI, where I found out that cancer had spread to my femur and had eaten a hole in my bone.
A few days later, I met with the surgeon who was going to biopsy my leg to make sure what we were dealing with was melanoma. I went into surgery and they removed a piece of my femur for biopsy. In recovery, as I was getting ready to put my shoes on, I adjusted in the bed and because of the weakened bone, my femur snapped in half.
I was admitted into the hospital and had to wait a few days for my surgery to place a titanium rod and several screws. They closed my leg up with 63 staples. While waiting, they decided to do a Pet Scan of my entire body to see if the cancer had traveled anywhere else. I was in the hospital with my friends and family when the doctor came in and gave me the news. The cancer had moved into my pancreas, lungs, lymph nodes, adrenal glands and liver. The most prominent spot was in my pancreas, causing my blood sugar to skyrocket to the point I had to be put on 4X’s daily insulin injections. I spent six days in the hospital that time and was released the day after my surgery. I had to be able to walk on my leg to leave.
This is where my journey of testing, radiation, immunotherapy, bio-chemotherapy, scopes, liver biopsy and imaging began. I started out doing radiation on my leg and immunotherapy on my inoperable tumors. I did four rounds of radiation on my leg and one round of immunotherapy. My body’s immune system reacted so violently to the immunotherapy that it started to deteriorate my liver. I went to the hospital emergency room on January 5 because I got a case of hiccups that lasted over 16 hours. I was admitted because I had elevated liver numbers. I was starting to go into liver failure and turn jaundice. I stayed in the hospital taking antibiotics and immune-suppressing drugs to slow down my immune system. I had to stay in the hospital until my numbers came down. In the meantime, I was rehabbing my leg, walking up and down the halls going up and downstairs. And every day, they would come to me with the bad news that I couldn’t leave. I felt helpless.
Finally, my oncologist came to see me and told me to make sure my wife was there on day 12. I thought we would hear the news that I wouldn’t be able to go home and that I most likely needed to get my affairs in order. As we were talking that day, he said I seemed more coherent than my liver numbers would indicate. If he had only gone by the numbers, there was no way I would be able to leave. I told him I did not want to die in a hospital. I wanted to be home. Since I looked good and could do all of these things, he decided to send me home as long as I kept getting blood draws every day, and that is what I did.
Gradually my numbers started turning around, but without any treatment, my tumors were growing. My pancreas tumor doubled in size in just a month. We had to get aggressive quickly, so my next best option was to do bio-chemotherapy for five rounds. This meant staying in the hospital for five consecutive days with this drug administered 24 hours a day. I wasn’t giving up no matter what this took out of me.
As I was getting ready for the first round of treatment COVID-19 happened and along with it no visitors. I was all alone during some of the scariest times in my life. My wife, Stace, would drop me off and pick me up when I was done. We were able to Facetime, which helped tremendously. I did this two other times, and as I was going through the third round of this treatment, I got bad news that we had to stop the treatment because I was given the wrong Chemo drug! It seemed something always happened to get in the way. I retook scans to see where we were, and the tumor they were so worried about had stopped growing.
In the meantime, as my leg was healing, a screw was working its way out of my leg. I had to have another surgery to have it removed. Because of COVID-19, they could not put me completely out. They stuck a needle the size of a pencil in my back; something like an epidural. I could hear the doctor working on my leg, it sounded like a construction area. When I asked him if I needed a hard hat, he laughed and said he was not used to patients talking to him while he was operating.
Despite everything, we had come to a point where my options were dwindling. I had to choose to try the immunotherapy drugs (that almost killed me) one more time. My doctor recommended we reduce the drugs and the amount in which I received them. I started this program in April of 2020 by getting a weekly COVID-19 test before I could get treatment. I would go in twice a month for the infusion, as well as have my blood checked every other day to see if anything was going on with my liver numbers. All was steady with no increase in my blood work so we continued on this treatment path including getting scans to see how things were progressing. On July 6, I received a text from my oncologist nurse practitioner, saying, “Text me back when you can. I have good news!” I called her back, and she said that all my tumors were gone, they were not visible on my scans. I couldn’t believe it but I didn’t tell anyone until I met with the doctor that following Monday and he could confirm. I have been receiving treatment for the past 18 months and have recently had my third set of clear scans.
I owe my life to science, positive thinking and never giving up. I was told if I came to the doctor in this condition just as little as five years ago, I would not have survived. Advances in medicine are truly amazing. This is just one of the primary reasons I love working for Bayer. I genuinely believe we are looking to do the right thing.
Cancer has changed my life, both physically and emotionally. I think about it every day, in some capacity. I worry that it will come back so I try to live my life to the fullest, at least while I still have it.
October 11, 2021 update: I recently had an MRI brain scan and a PET scan, both came back with no evidence of disease — I am officially cancer free! I went into the University of Kansas Cancer and my doctor has decided we can officially end treatment. I am excited to move on from this experience and look forward to seeing what else I can accomplish.
I am very blessed to have the support system I have. Please share this story with anyone that you know who might be going through a dire situation. Anything is possible with modern medicine and the power of your own mind. Never ever let the negative outweigh the positive. Great things happen to those who believe.