Eric Martin is a melanoma warrior who has been fighting skin cancer since 2011. It all started with a scab-like spot on his back. At first, he ignored it, thinking it would just go away. But, unfortunately, it didn't. When it began to change colors and start to bleed, Eric decided it was time to meet a dermatologist.
Eric described his first dermatologist appointment day as the worst day of his life. He explained, “I was surrounded by posters of melanoma. They looked just like the mark on my back."
"What’s next? Am I going to die?" Many desperate thoughts raced through his mind. Eric had never been treated with any serious medical issues in his life, and he was truly frightened. He was referred to an oncologist for melanoma treatments and was told that he had a 50% chance of recovering. Eric put his game face on. He wanted to find the best healthcare professional for his condition and was able to connect with Dr. Gregory Daniels at the University of California San Diego Morris Cancer Center.
Eric started his treatments with surgery and adjuvant interferon, but by 2012 scans showed 20 small tumors all over his liver. At this point, his oncologist suggested he enroll in a clinical trial investigating tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) therapy at the National Institutes of Health.
Eric enrolled in the clinical trial and had incredible results. He was categorized as a complete responder, meaning that all signs of cancer were gone, but he wasn't necessarily cured.
Sure enough, a year later Eric found three melanoma spots on his right pectoral. He immediately started his second clinical trial which was studying the investigational combination of nivolumab + ipilimumab. Unfortunately, he had a bad reaction to the ipilimumab and it was discontinued from his treatment regimen. Although nivolumab and surgery kept the tumors controlled for some time, eventually the melanoma returned and this time the tumors were visible under his skin.
Eric started his third clinical trial where interleukin-2 (IL-2) was fused into his bloodstream. During his two sessions, he was given 50-60 doses of the medication that activated his immune system. Once again, he experienced terrible side effects and the trial treatments had to be stopped.
“I wanted to die. It was horrible – easily the worst treatment I've ever gone through. I had every side effect that they warn you about," Eric lamented. And to make matters worse, the treatment didn't even work.
The next two studies he participated in were based on vaccines, which boost the immune system using immunotherapy. Still, the tumors continued to grow. His doctor had run out of trials to recommend but, Eric wasn’t ready to give up and kept looking for more clinical trials.
After meeting Dr. Omid Hamid at The Angeles Clinic in Los Angeles, Eric enrolled in his ninth clinical trial and was inspired to set up a non-profit organization called Stage Free Melanoma
focused on sun safety awareness and the importance of getting skin checks.
Although Eric's battle with melanoma is not finished, he has not lost his hope. “Clinical trials have kept me alive. I’m still here.”