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Interferon treatments after successful melanoma surgeries

Posted by @bonnieg in Cancer, Nov 26, 2011

Hi, I've had 2 surgeries to remove a mole that was melanoma in the past 8 weeks. Had a lymph node biopsy with the second surgery and it came back negative, as did the blood work, the surrounding tissue, etc. My oncologist has scheduled me to begin Interferon therapy very soon - 5 days a week on an iv for 4 weeks then shots 3 times a week for a year.

From what I've been learning through research, it sounds as though this therapy is normally given when the lymph nodes have been positive for melanoma or the depth made it a stage 3 or 4. The depth had me at stage 1 then changed to stage 2 because the mole had begun to deteriorate on the surface.It was 1.8 mm deep.

I understand preventive medicine is the best route to take when it comes to cancer, but if going through this for a year is not a true medical necessity, I'm wondering why he would rush me into it when all the tests came back clean.

I'd greatly appreciate someone's input who has been through this type of therapy. I know there are many, many of you with a much worse case of cancer, and please believe me when I say I know I'm blessed. I will of course do anything to avoid having it come back or spread.

Thank you

Tags: Cancer, interferon therapy, Melanoma


Posted by @denverrose, Nov 26, 2011

Hi Bonnie,

I've had Melanoma twice in 2000 and 2005. The first time went from biopsy and 3 stitches to that being diagnosed as Melanoma. In Colorado al l cancer biopsys are sent to Mayo Clinic for confirmation and various other info. I also had my sentinal node located and was removed when i had surgery. At first I was told this would be outpatient surgery and by the time the Mayo info came in as a stage 3 it then became a big surgery with a scar about 12" on the back of my thigh. I was told at the time that if I chose chemotherapy it would only lessen the risk of return by 13% so I opted not to. What no one told me nor do you read is that Melanoma doesn't have to be seen on the surface of the skin it is actually a tumor under the skin. So 5 years later I found a lump a few inches from the original scar. The same surgeon though it was probably an old cyst but he did send it off for biopsy. It came back positive and so backi into surgery 3 weeks later. I started Interferon right away with the same schedule as you. I was allergic to it so I was given Benedryl in my IV at the same time. The hair loss was very minimal, had no nausea but I did lose my taste for foods that I dearly loved e.g. tomatoes and chocolate (that came back) I itched horribly even with the Benedryl and after several months my Dr. finally found and ointment that WORKS and then live was much better. There is good reason why they have you go to the hospital 5 days a week as somethinjg happened with me and the Dr. spotted it right then and sent me for a very strong antibiotic given in an IV. I was instantly allergic but the Dr. said to add Benedryl to it as it was necessary. When it was finished I went to the bathroom and when I washed my hands I saw my nails were bleeding underneath. Nobody seemed concerned and they cleared up and I returned to "normal". Either you or your family can give the shot at home and mine was completely covered by insurance. There was a lot more after the 2nd surgery as I was sent home with 3 drains and I was not able to get out of the house due to them. I am a very strong person ( a Scorpio) and while all this was going on I had a panic attack (which up till then I thought it was mind or matter) I was put on a low dose happy pill and they went away About 3 years ago I stopped taking them and somewhere around a month or so later I had a second panic attack so I am back on them and I am afraid to stop theml It took 5 months before the last drain was removed and then there was an open hole a little smaller than a golf ball for many more months. I have been in remission since the last surgery in 2005. Would I reccommend the interferon to you? A resounding YES and if I can be of any help to you please feel free to contact me. JUST REMEMBER to watch for lumps (and I had a Dermatologist check me every 6 months and even he didn't tell me about lumps!!!

Good Luck and God bless. Denverrose

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Posted by @bonnieg, Nov 26, 2011

Thanks so much for the quick reply to my concerns. I've been told by a good friend to contact someone who's been through this and found this site last night. It does make a difference hearing what you've gone through and I thank God for both of us that there are doctors who can get us through this chapter of life. I'm glad to hear you have been in remission since 2005! I have had problems with depression in the past and was put on various drugs to help me out. I'm certainly not here to give advice - just looking for it- but if you feel better taking it, and if there are no bad side effects from taking it long term, why would you want to quit taking it? I have bouts of depression off and on and there's a strong possibility this will come back with the interferon therapy, and I think my doctor will end up putting me on a "happy pill". Whatever it takes to make this work with the least amount of emotional stress on us and our family I say. There are just so many things going through my mind it all hit very quickly. I went to the oncologist to have him go over my latest test results and was happy my newest incisions were healing well (the first surgical incision got a pretty bad infection) and then he dropped the bomb about having interferon therapy and putting my life on hold for who knows how long. I am a single Mom with a teenage daughter who I might add is a great help to me already. While recovering from the second surgery I lost my job and am now forced to be on public assistance which helps a lot but the money only covers about 1/4 of the rent and bills. Financially speaking, this is going to be difficult. Physically I feel pretty good, but it's Saturday and I start the Interferon on Monday morning. My daughter needs a ride to school since we live out of the district but I'm not sure if I can drive after starting this. I'm normally very strong willed and strong emotionally but this has already knocked me down to a level I don't like to be at. I'm so happy on one hand that the cancer has been removed but so fearful at the same time. If it wasn't for my faith in the Lord and having a caring family, it's hard to say what state of mind I'd be in. No one told me to look for lumps either. They said that the cancer can come back anywhere in my body, not as a mole, next time and thanks to you I now know how true that is. I also need to quit smoking! Have done it at least 4 times already in my past but never found a way to stay off them. Last time I quit was for 3 years then one day I woke up covered in hives from my nerves. Went through tests for allergies and nothing. The doctor may have to help me deal with that too. Thanks again and I sincerely pray you will remain cancer free. I'd like to hear from you again and truly appreciate your information and help in dealing with this.

God bless you and your family this Christmas and in the new year.


Posted by @denverrose, Nov 29, 2011

Hi Bonnie,

I am pleased that you wrote back, thank you. I guess I need to clarify a couple of things. First is that a couple of years ago I began perspiring a lot even if the temp. changed by 1% and my Dr. and I have been trying to figure out why. One day he said perhaps the happy pill I was taking was causing it as that can be a side effect. At that point I didn't think I needed it so I just quit and didn't tell my Dr. As it happened when I had the 2nd panic attack he was out of town and the Dr. I had left long ago was taking his calls. I was told the office had just closed and I would have to wait till Monday. So it was not as I made it out to be.

Secondly everyone reacts a bit differently but after the the initial 30 days I was able to go back to school full-time and I am sure you will be able to resume your life. As far as your bills I suggest that you contact your city housing and the federal government has mandated that their housing have a certain # of units set aside for people who are sick and disabled. Your city utilities cannot turn off your heat and perhaps they have some plan to help. Our city has a food assistance program that if you volunteer 2 hours and get a paper signed you will get a large grocery bag full of really good food. If you get your kids on Medicaid they will receive free dental checkups and if anything needs to be done they will fix it, the same for glasses and clothes. I know as I work with kids 10 to 18 who have various mental disorders and are on medicaid. Don't be ashamed to ask for help anywhere and everywhere. Here we even have a place that will send someone to your home and take care of your pets and feed them that is from the University.

God is with you so believe that you will come thru this far better than you think; it is the fear of the unknown and your own mortality. There are many more cancers that are far worse than ours. Please stay in touch and I hope today went OK. Oh yes, if you have really fine veins like me the most wonderful thing I did was have a "port line" put in which was near my heart and no one could see it. It saved so much pain and frustration in starting the IV..

Take care and know that many people care about you.



Posted by @bonnieg, Nov 29, 2011

Good morning Lynn,

Thanks for taking the time to write to me. I really appreciate hearing from you.
I had my first inteferon treatment yesterday and slept through most of it - there was demoral in the iv also which really took the edge off for me. My veins are easy to get to so putting it in wasn't bad. Had a ride there and back but today I'm going to try to drive, and if need be, my sister lives a couple of miles from the doctor and will pick me up to get me back home.
I went to human services a couple of days ago and we are on medicaide and got food stamps. They are also going to be giving us a small sum of cash each month til I can get the energy to work again (finding a job will be the hard part around here)
Thanks for your help Lynn. Please keep in touch with me if you can.


Posted by @denverrose, Nov 30, 2011

Hi Bonnie,

What a pleasant surprize to hear from you. Sounds like things went well yesterday (that made me smile). Your kids are eligible for free lunches too.

Let's go to a different and lighter subject. I will tell you a little about me and maybe you could tell me a little about you. I am 68 widowed, co-owner of a house with my 48 yr. old daughter. I am the happy owner of three shih tzus and a parakeet. I live in Fort Collins, CO, work part-time and have many interests. For or several years, I have been into photography and what I can do with them. I have sold some but I am not trying as it takes away the fun. Presently I am making Christmas cards for my special friends. I have family in San Antonio and my Dad is 92 so I am going for a visit on the 12th for a week. I am returning in time to work overtime and help at work over the holidays. I am sort of asea as far as friends here. My best friend remarried and moved to the Montana/Canadian border so I found another great friend and now she is a snowbird and spends winters in Port Isabel, TX. I do have other casual friends but it isn't the same. Maybe we can be friends.

Again I wish you a good day.



Posted by @bonnieg, Dec 13, 2011

Hi Lynn,

Sorry it took me so long to write back but things as you know have been a bit stressful lately. Have gone through 11 Interferon treatments and am tired as heck til late evening when I get enough energy to put a few items up for sale on Ebay then it's off to bed. I had them stop giving me demerol after having stomach problems the first week and have now actually gained 4 lbs instead of losing weight. You remember the nasty metallic taste you get from the Interferon I'm sure. Nothing tastes right if it has any taste at all, but I'm forcing myself to eat and experiment with different flavors to see what works.
You sound like you have an interesting life Lynn. I'd be very happy to be your friend although I doubt we'll meet since I live in Ohio. But the internet and email is great and if you'd like I'll give you mine so we can keep in touch.
As I think I told you, my youngest daughter, who will be 16 on Dec 22 and I live alone in a very small town. Over the years I've been a real estate photographer (which I loved) sold on Ebay off and on since 2004 and am doing that now, worked as a cook more times than I care to admit, and been a stay at home Mom back when I was still married. I've been divorced for 11 yrs now and am 51 yrs old. As far as friends, I have a few good female friends but we don't get together often, I have a sister I am close to who just learned to text on her cell phone so we chat while I'm in chemo. I have 2 older daughters also, one in South Carolina and one in Connecticut. I've been blessed with great kids which more than makes up for my failed relationships. Actually Lynn, my very best friend is a fellow I dated a few times a couple of years ago. We've realized that we are much better at being dear friends than being a couple so that helps with the loneliness. Oh, we have a sweet cat we call Oliver. He's one of my main photography subjects along with my daughter of course. I too have enjoyed photography for many years Lynn. I especially love going to our local parks during different seasons and shooting nature and animals. It's so relaxing and calms my spirit, but I'm sure you understand that. If you'd like to email me I can be reached at Hoping you have a great trip to TX...we went there (San Antonio and Houston) after Christmas last year and had a wonderful time. The River Walk was just fantastic! Take care and God bless you and your family.


Posted by @femavtor, Feb 13, 2012


Your story sounds awfully similar to my husbands. PLEASE email me!
FemAvtor. Julie


Posted by @swissnick, Jun 2, 2012

Hi Bonnie, I hope you are doing OK. I just wanted to say I am going through the same thing at the moment and wanted to encourage everyone who is having to have the interferon treatment to stick with it and DO IT.

My story is the same as many on this forum - I'm 43 yo and was diagnosed in January with Stage 3 malignant melanoma after I went to see a dermatologist with a concern about a mole that was changing on my back. He removed it there and then and it came back as 1.2mm in depth which meant further wide excision surgery and a sentinel lymph node biopsy.

that first surgery was really not too bad, no drain fitted and I was out of the hospital the day after. No swelling and no lymphadema. Trouble was one node (of two they removed) came back as positive for microscopic traces of tumor so six weeks later I was back in the hospital for a lymphadectamy where they removed a further 24 nodes from my upper left side. This surgery hit me like a freight train and I was in the hospital for 8 days plus had a drain fitted for a further two weeks which had to be changed daily. Thankfully none of the further nodes tested positive for tumor and together with a clear PET/CT scan and clear ultrasounds they tell me I am in the clear for now.

Trouble is that for stage 3 melanoma, the risk of relapse anywhere in the body within two years is between 30-50% so this is why I have been recommended for the pegulated interferon treatment. This treatment consists for me of 8 weeks of high dose self-injected at home once a week and then a further two years at half that dose. Apparently it gives a 5-7% improvement on not getting a relapse within the two years. I figured that is 5-7% better chance than nothing so have taken the advise to take it. Thankfully my insurance is covering it because it is a very expensive drug.

The first time I took interferon it was like a freight train hit me and I was laid up in bed for three days with high fever, aches, shivers and flu-like symptoms. At a low point, I cried when I thought about how I was going to have to do this every week for two years and how was I going to get through it (especially with two young children for whom I am the stay at home carer) Thankfully my partner was very supportive and all my friends have rallied round, telling me to TOUGH IT OUT. Actually, this was just what I needed to hear.

The second time I took it I got down on my knees and begged God would make it easier than the first time and I have to say He really has answered my prayers. I have always had a faith and I can't begin to know why this has happened to me but i have learned to trust and to know that God is with me. When I was in the hospital it really came home to me that other people, including children, are going through so much worse than me. So for now I am going to keep on with my interferon treatment and not skip any of the follow-up check-ups including the dermatologist every three months, the PET/CT scan once a year and the ultrasounds every six months.

If I can offer any advice to anyone in a similar situation it is the following:

1. If in doubt about a mole, don't delay and go have it checked out.
2. Have the surgery and be prepared that it can be tough but you will get through it.
3. If you have surgery, the drain can be in for over two weeks - be prepared for that.
4. Get friends and family to help out with groceries and household chores - don't be afraid to ask for help.
5. If they recommend interferon, DO IT - give yourself every chance going even though the side effects can be hard at first. In my case the side effects have tapered off a little.
6. Try to accept this is happening to you and resolve to fight it, even if you are not sure why it is happening - does anyone ever really know why these things happen? Talk to your friends and family and to your doctors. Join a support community like this.
7. Get down on your knees and PRAY - or at least try to connect or reconnect with your sense of the spiritual. Remember that prayer - 'Ours is not to reason why' - this is all too true. Whatever happens, I believe God is with all of us, and maybe these crises are a reminder to us to call out to Him to help us through.

I hope this helps. I will keep posting as I go through my interferon treatment so I can describe what it is like. Please don't hesitate to ask any questions about my treatment - I'll always be happy to help.

Best wishes, prayers and blessings to everyone who reads this.


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