Cancer journey: Battle starts with swollen lymph area


Sally Acton is a registered nurse and director of Cancer and Palliative Care Services at Schneck Cancer Center. Her husband, Steve Acton, is undergoing treatment for lymphoma.

It began with a painful lump in the armpit of my husband, Steve Acton, which sent him to his family doctor.

My husband’s doctor prescribed antibiotics, and he went back to him two more times because the antibiotic was not working. They tried different antibiotics, as this area is typical for infection, and it did feel as a lymph node was swollen.

Because the antibiotics did not help, Dr. Amanda Dick did a biopsy of the lymph node, actually removing the node. It was positive for metastatic melanoma, which he learned on his 60th birthday in September 2015.

The location of the skin cancer has never been found to this day. A lymph node dissection was performed (21 lymph nodes were removed) and eight of them had cancer in them.

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This is very concerning because the lymph nodes are a channel for body fluids, so Dr. Dolores Olivarez, a medical oncologist with Schneck Cancer Center, already knew that the cells were floating around in his body.

She then ordered Interferon, which is the only therapy indicated for melanoma that has not yet spread, to prevent it from spreading.

He was not able to get into any clinical trials because the primary tumor (where it started) could not be located by dermatologists, oncologists or surgeons.

My husband then received radiation therapy in the armpit/chest/neck area to prevent local recurrence of the melanoma by Dr. Higinia Cardenes, a radiation oncologist. The only side effect of the radiation was minimal skin irritation.

The Interferon caused severe fatigue and loss of appetite.

He lost more than 50 pounds over the next months. In August of this year, almost a year from his diagnosis, he noted a 9-pound weight loss two weeks in a row, to bring him to a weight loss of 65 pounds.

It wasn’t until then that he had to stop working due to severe weakness. He was a clinical engineer for Columbus Regional Health, maintaining medical equipment.

Lab results showed his liver was being affected, and the CT scans were obtained that demonstrated the melanoma was now in his liver and abdomen.

Dr. Olivarez started him on two fairly new drugs that are taken by mouth that are targeted agents — Tafinlar and Mekinist. That means they target the BRAF and MEK areas of the gene that is promoting this cancer.

More and more oral chemotherapy is coming into play, replacing some of the IV (intravenous) chemotherapy. He is still very weak but is eating very well and able to do some things.

This is because of these chemotherapy pills he started in August, as well as the wonderful symptom management of Donna Butler, who is a nurse practioner with the Schneck Medical Center’s Palliative Care program that works with our cancer patients to relieve symptoms of the disease as well as the treatments.

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