2017 Race For Research Honoree
Hi, my name is Mark Laing. I live in Lafayette, Colorado, with my wife Erika and two sons Kellan and Aaron. I want to share my story in hopes you will consider joining the Race For Research to benefit Colorado cancer research...because the more we know, the more we can hope for a cure.
In the fall of 2009, when our son Kellan was 3-years-old and our youngest son Aaron was 1 1/2, I embarked on an intensive training program for fitness. I have always been physically fit and played rugby growing up in my home country of England. I tell you this because I have always been health conscious and taken care of myself, but as we often find, cancer does not discriminate. During my training sessions, I began to notice a red spot on my back that seemed easily irritated and sometimes bled. I scheduled an appointment with my dermatologist who looked at it but didn’t think it was anything to worry about. Despite this, he later told me that something in the back of his mind said to biopsy it. A week later, my
After consultations around the US, I decided to have four treatments of bio-chemotherapy under the care of melanoma oncologist, Dr. Rene Gonzales at the University of Colorado. This was in-patient chemotherapy for five days at a time. I had four cycles of this as well as surgery to remove all the lymph nodes in my right shoulder where the positive lymph node was found. As anyone who has been through chemotherapy knows, it is not an easy process. This one seemed especially intense as I had to stay in the hospital during the entire week of each treatment due to the possibility of dangerously low blood pressure. This was difficult on me and also on my family. Thankfully, I had my family in England as well as Erika's family in the U.S. to help. We also had lots of support from neighbors and friends. My treatment ended in 2010 and I had routine check-ups for the next several years.
Anyone who’s fought cancer knows what it's like to live in the shadow of a possible reoccurrence, but we did our best to move on with our busy life and young family. In late 2011, however, we faced another challenge. A routine PET scan confirmed the melanoma was back and it was now Stage 4. Many people do not realize how deadly melanoma can be or that it doesn't confine itself to the skin. In my case, the small, barely detectable spot on my lower back had metastasized and traveled to my lung. A biopsy confirmed it was indeed melanoma. I was tested for a specific gene mutation of melanoma which might have given me an additional treatment option. In the end, however, I was offered one drug, named Yervoy, which had only recently gained FDA approval. Even with just this one treatment, however, I was lucky. Even just a few years before the outlook would have been
Yervoy, also known as ipilimumab (ipi), is one of the first cancer treatments that uses the body's own immune system to fight cancer. Doctors had hypothesized for some time that if you could "supercharge," the immune system it might be equipped to kill tumors in the body. The problem, however, is that the body often doesn't recognize cancer cells because they are a product of our own body's cell development gone awry. In the case of Yervoy, doctors theorized the drug might lift the veil, so to
After completing the four rounds of treatment, a scan showed that the tumor had actually increased in size. My doctor noted, though, that this is sometimes a good indication that the tumor is inflamed due to the immune system attacking it. After three months, in the summer of 2012, I
I cannot tell you how lucky I and my family feel that my treatment worked and I have been given the possibility of a cure. Not everyone gets that chance. I also know, however, that it was not just luck. My treatment with Dr. Gonzalez and his team at the University of Colorado made a huge difference. I cannot underestimate the need to have a team who advocate, support and treat the patient and their family. If my family had not had that support and pulled together, it would have been much more difficult. During my journey, I was often inspired by others and by little signs that seemed to tell me everything would be okay. One song for example that has inspired many, Don't Stop Believin by Journey, remains an inspiration today. You cannot give up hope, you must advocate for yourself, and regardless of your situation stay as positive as possible against the odds.
I know that many people have experienced the hardship of cancer and have fought bravely whether they have survived or not. It is, for this reason, I feel humbled and honored to be this year’s 2017 Race Honoree. I couldn’t have made it through the past eight years without an amazing family, friends and the incredible team under Dr. Gonzales. His team and other oncologists who work tirelessly with the latest research, pharmaceutical advances through companies such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, and treatments such as Yervoy, give hope for patients fighting cancer. Here are some further words from Dr. Gonzales about Yervoy and the newer immunotherapy drug treatments gaining further momentum….
I know first-hand how important this research is. Please register for the race and support your fellow Coloradans and don’t stop believin’.