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Survivor Stories

Hello, my name is Christine Truitt and this is my story. When I was sixteen tanning was real important to me. Every year before Prom I would tan. During the summer I would make sure I was tan. Sometimes I would tan twice a day or 45 minutes at one time. I loved being burnt because it lead to an awesome tan. I did this till I was in my early 20’s. Then tanning was to only get my base tan and to maintain it.

When I was 29 I noticed a lump on my leg. I didn’t think much of it. A few weeks went by and I showed my husband. He told me to go to the doctors. I went in and they thought it was something else. It had to be removed and sent to the lab. A few weeks went by and then they cut more off to analyze. They told me that there was a chance it could be cancerous. About 3 months later it came back as melanoma. I was scared. Telling my husband, kids, and family was difficult.

The next phase was all of the test. The CT Scans, x-rays, and the labs. They had to see if it had spread to any other part of my body. All of those came back negative, some good news for a change. But because my spot was so thick and wide I needed to have surgery. We needed to make sure it wasn’t in my lymph node system. That was wonderful news too. My lymphatic system was clean. I was happy to say the least. At that point I thought it was all over, but my doctor wanted me to see a specialist. I was lucky because he sent me to Dr. Anderson at the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center in Columbia, Missouri. What an amazing doctor. When I went I thought he would tell me things looked great and he’d see me in a year, but that wasn’t the case. He told me I needed to do a year of treatment. I was stunned. I didn’t realize how serious things were till that moment. So that’s what I did. One year of treatment.

On August 26 2003 I started my treatment. My husband and I drove one and a half hours from Kirksville to Columbia every day for the first month. Each day I had labs and an IV of high doses of Interferon. Then we would drive one and a half hours back home. During the next 11 months I gave myself injections in my legs. I also had to drive back to Columbia once a month for labs and doctors appointments. I don’t remember a lot of that year because of the medication, it affects a persons memory. Eric, my husband said I slept most of the first 2 months.

During that year I was extremely sick. Always vomiting, I was on a lot of different medication besides the Interferon, the pain in my legs from giving myself the injections was very bad, and I lost most of my strength. I took pain killers everyday. Sundays was my best day. The hardest thing was what I had done to my family. I have 3 kids who lost there mom for a year. And my husband who during this time was incredible. But the pain he went through is now hard to bare. There wasn’t anyone there to help us as a family, no support groups in my area. It was just my family and friends who were there for support and none of us had ever dealt with anything such as this. We all got a crash course in Melanoma. All of this pain I cause just because I wanted to be tan. Looking back now I can’t believe how selfish I was.

Now I am done with my treatment and feeling better than ever. I lost 65 pounds in that year; I needed to get rid of it anyway. I now exercise regularly and eat right. I still have to go to the doctors 4 times a year to have test run and this will continue for the next 2 years. Then its once a year for the next 5 years. I will continue to pray that the cancer never returns. I’m one of the lucky ones. I had great doctors, Dr. Don Maples and Dr. Clay Anderson, God, prayer, family and friends, my children, and an amazing husband helping me fight. AND WE WON!

Hello my name is Eric Truitt. In 2003 my wife was diagnosed with Melanoma. She had a lump on her left leg that wouldn’t go away. So she went to see the doctor and he cut some of it out and sent it off. After three weeks the doctor had to cut some more out because the lab couldn’t figure out what it was. The doctor said it might be cancer. I hoped for the best and put it out of my mind. I don’t know how long it was, but the bad news came and hit us. Still we didn’t think it was that bad. You know it’s just skin cancer burn it off and get on with life right. Wrong, that’s when we learned the difference between skin cancer and Melanoma. This stuff could kill her and we had to find an oncologist and begin treatment, quickly.

We were referred to a doctor in Columbia, Missouri. So we drove the hour and a half for her appointment. The news wasn’t all that great. She would have to go through a year of treatment. It wasn’t chemotherapy, but it wasn’t far from it either. For the first month we drove the hour and a half to Columbia every day so she could receive her doses of medicine and then we drove the hour and a half back home. After that first month Christine, my wife, gave herself injections at home three times a week.

The first two months of Christine’s treatment she slept most of it away. It was hard on her and painful. The oncologist gave her some pain medicine for the pain, which was pretty bad, and that made her sleep a lot. It was probably good for her, because later things got worse. In the months to follow I watched my wife slipping away from me. She was in constant pain from the shots and the medicine. Her entire body was filled with pain and nothing I could do could make it go away. That part was hard, this is the woman I’ve spent the last ten years protecting. I couldn’t do anything now to save her from this. I tried to keep her spirits up. I tried to keep her active and involved with the house, I didn’t want her to waste away in bed.

Our children, we have three, two boys and a little girl, were scared and sad. Mommy was sick, real bad, and we had to be careful with her and help her get through this. Some days the kids took it pretty well. Some days they didn’t. They would cry and tell me they didn’t want to lose their mom. I’d tell them that we weren’t going to lose her. The medicine would work and make mommy all better again. In mind I wasn’t too sure. I was watching Christine slowly die. She was wasting away from me. Wracked with pain, her long beautiful hair was falling out of her head in clumps, she was losing weight, and her appetite was completely gone. And there was nothing I could to for her. I was losing my wife and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I began to detach myself from people around me. I really didn’t have anyone I thought I could talk to. No one I knew had gone through anything like this. You see I’m not a very friendly person. I have a tendency to be mean and hateful to people. Christine was the one who showed how to be caring, without this woman I will lose my compassion. Without this woman my heart would turn black. Without her I would lose the world I come to know. And I was losing her. The world was not looking too bright.

Sometime in August of 2004 we were nearing the end of treatment. I felt in my head that the doctors would say that the cancer was still there. If that was the case statistics showed that Christine would be dead inside five years. I told her that everything would be fine. The cancer would be gone and we could end this horrible year and get on with our lives. Inside though my wife was already gone. She had a couple of appointments the next month. CT Scans and x-rays and labs to determine if the cancer was completely gone from her body. I had to work the day she went down to do the test. I work at a hospital and that day they brought my grandfather into the Emergency Room. It was determined that grandpa had a heart attack, but he was still alive and I talked to him and he seemed cheerful, his old self. Two hours later they called a Code Blue. Grandpa was dying. Then Christine called, the x-rays showed spots in her lungs. That’s bad, real bad. I held onto Grandma as we watched Grandpa pass away a couple of hours later. Grandma did really well. I was a statue with a train wreck inside. First Granddad and soon my wife. When Christine got home I tried to console her that the spots in her lungs were not cancer, just some mistake. I’m not sure if I was very convincing though. I just knew it was the end for her and for me. I grieved in silence for all three of us.

It turned out that the spots on the x-rays were nothing, just some stupid spots that didn’t mean anything. Later results showed that Christine was cancer free. Yeah, well it was some good news for a change. But this cancer has really screwed things up. It’s changed us both. Her for better. Me for the worse. It has really messed me up and I didn’t even have the disease. Watching her rot before me has crushed me emotionally. It has strained our marriage to breaking. We’re in counseling now and I believe its helping some. If I could have had someone to talk to it may have helped me deal with things. I’m not much of a talker though, but I’m sure it would have helped. I’m still scared that the cancer will come back, but I’m trying to move forward and enjoy my life and Christine.

That’s my story. If it can help you or maybe someone you know that’s great. If not that’s fine too. If this story can help one person when they’re going through a tough time then it was worth writing then.

On June 3, 1998 I had an automobile accident; I ran into a parked car. The air bag deployed and I was unhurt, but the car was destroyed. I got out and called 911, who showed up quickly. The paramedic team insisted I be taken to emergency, which at first I resisted as I felt fine, but reluctantly agreed to go. X-rays were taken, and revealed no accident injuries, but showed a 20-mm tumor in the upper part of my left lung.

A CT guided biopsy was later taken and showed that the tumor was malignant and surgery was scheduled for the next week. On June 19th the surgery removed the upper third of the left lung, and `was successful in removing the entire tumor which had not spread to any outside tissues or lymph nodes. The tumor was sent to pathology, which confirmed the cancer, and pronounced it a “non small cell malignant neoplasm”. The pathologist sent out the tissue for further analysis, which proved the cancer to be from a metastasized melanoma. A MRI of the brain later confirmed that it had metastasized to the brain, and was Melanoma stage IV.

On September 12, 1998 a “Gamma Knife” procedure was performed, but the original tumor was too large to treat with the gamma knife (40-mm). A smaller tumor was detected at that time and was destroyed with the gamma knife, and I was immediately transported to Sharp Memorial Hospital for brain surgery to remove the large tumor. The following day, September 13 surgery was performed and successfully removed a 40 mm tumor from my left cerebellum.

Following surgery I asked my doctor what therapy I might expect next. He answered “none, we don’t treat dead-men.” I said, “What should I do?” He replied (in front of my wife and daughter) “go home and die”. (I was considered stage IV)

Since then, I have discovered that there are several follow-up treatments to brain cancer after surgical removal. There is radiation and chemotherapy, both of which I asked about, but was told: “we don’t spend money on dead men.”

Of course this was shocking and depressing, and I went home, but decided that I would not gracefully accept this death sentence. I spent considerable time and research on the World Wide Web. Of the many cancer treatments, most were non-scientific and not well documented. Finally, following the recommendation of an oncologist, I found the John Wayne Cancer Institute at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica. JWCI had years of experience with cancer vaccine research and had a phase II vaccine program underway and had treated several thousand patients over the past two years with a newly developed cancer vaccine. They had a high success rate of markedly extending the life of cancer patients just like me. On December 4, 1998 my wife and I drove up to Santa Monica to meet with one of the primary physicians, Dr. Glenn Tisman, and have a physical by him. I asked him to mail a “Physician’s packet” to both my primary care physician and my oncologist. The information in this packet and a letter dated 1/5/99 convinced my PCP to issue an authorization for me to be treated at John Wayne. On January 20, 1999 my PCP issued this authorization for me to be treated at JWCI.

After a year of vaccine injections in their phase II study, I was discharged by John Wayne, and since have had relatively frequent MRIs and recently a PET scan. (Everything is negative so far, five years after the accident!) That accident saved my life by causing early detection! I had no symptoms at the time.

The vaccine I was given has been in phase III double blind testing for several years now, and is called Cancervax. Hopefully the study will be unblinded soon and become commercially available.

Anyone that would like more detail is welcome to contact me at .

With my best wishes,
John L. Hooper