Kim Lloyd, Richland, Washington
Kim Lloyd was 50 years old in 2006 when she found a scab on a birthmark on the lateral side of her left thigh that didn’t seem to be healing. When she went to her primary care doctor, he performed a biopsy and gave her the unfortunate news that she had melanoma.
A surgeon removed the cancer and performed a sentinel node biopsy to locate and remove the sentinel node, which is the first lymph node to which her melanoma tumor was likely to have spread if it had spread beyond her leg. If her biopsy results were negative, no more surgery would be necessary. But if the results were positive, her surgeon would have to perform a complete inguinal (groin) lymph node dissection and remove most of the remaining lymph nodes. Fortunately, Kim’s lymph nodes were clear.
Two weeks after her melanoma was removed she was exercising (with her surgeon’s blessing), when a couple of lymph nodes in her leg became swollen. “My doctor wasn’t concerned, so as the swelling went down, I began to let it go,” Kim says.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
In 2007, Kim had a squamous cell carcinoma (skin cancer, but not melanoma) removed from her nose using a MOHS surgery technique.
Two years later during an intense workout a lymph node overreacted again. Kim was in Seattle and wanted to see someone there, but her primary care physician in her hometown of Richland thought she should check her out before sending her to an oncologist in Seattle. By the time Kim returned home however, the swelling had gone down and she and her doctor decided to watch it for a while. Two months later, it swelled again and stayed swollen. Kim was then referred her to an oncologist in her hometown.
“The oncologist was gentle with me. I was in a bit of denial that anything could be wrong. I didn’t want to admit that there was something of concern there,” Kim says. “The oncologist referred me to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.”
Kim was familiar with Dr. David Byrd, director of the Melanoma Center at SCCA, from what friends had told her. By the time she got to Seattle to see him though, her lymph node had collapsed. “Dr. Byrd couldn’t get a good sample. So I went home and when it flared up again, I got a sample from the doctor at home as instructed by Dr. Byrd. It tested positive for melanoma.”
Dr. Byrd saw her right away after that and removed 36 lymph nodes of which only two contained melanoma cells, putting her melanoma recurrence at Stage 3. Dr. Byrd then referred Kim to Dr. Kim Margolin, medical oncologist at SCCA, who is particularly interested in researching new treatments for melanoma.
Clinical Study Treatment
Dr. Margolin enrolled Kim in a clinical research study for a melanoma vaccine. For two years, Kim came to SCCA every three weeks for 15 weeks to receive a vaccination.
“MAGE-A3 is a protein from melanoma cells that is expressed in about two-thirds of samples,” Dr. Margolin says. “The vaccine is being compared with a placebo in a blinded fashion (neither the patient nor the oncologist knows which treatment the patient is getting) in the post-operative setting for patients who had one or more lymph nodes large enough to feel, prior to surgical removal.”
This vaccine has shown promise in patients with metastatic melanoma in whom the results of therapy can be directly observed by examination or scans.
“In the adjuvant (post-operative) setting, it is necessary to do the randomized comparison because it's the only way to know if the experimental therapy is effective,” Margolin says.
“I experienced a lot of emotions,” Kim says. “Fear of recurrence, what I’d look like…the emotional part of having cancer was huge for me, my mind can run away with me. I have a counselor who is a cancer survivor herself. She has helped me through many, many challenges. My goal is to find peace from within, to calm my mind and my body.
Her leg was swollen after having so many lymph nodes removed, so Kim went through a lymphatic drainage procedure to help relieve the swelling. “I’m in fitness and science,” she says, “and until now I never really understood or appreciated the function and importance of the lymphatic system.”
What is the lymphatic system? The lymphatic system is a network of tubes that slowly carries fluid, called lymph, from your tissues to be recycled back into your blood. Along this network are lymph nodes—small, bean-shaped organs that are located throughout your body in your neck, underarms, groin, and behind your knees. They are also deeper inside your body in your chest, abdomen, and pelvis. The nodes filter lymph and store cells called lymphocytes that mature into cells of the immune system to defend against infections caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
Kim learned a lot about how to control the swelling in her leg. She wears a compression stocking all day even when showering to help keep the swelling under control, with the exception of bedtime. “All the swelling seems to go away when I’m horizontal,” she says.
Cancer Free, Gaining Control
Kim has been cancer free since December 2008. Dr. Margolin says the official term is NED – No Evidence of Disease. “We don’t use the word ‘in remission’ because she was never in relapse after surgery,” Dr. Margolin says.
Kim returns to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance every three months for treatment and scans, and will for two years.
“Working with SCCA has been fantastic. It’s so organized and smooth there,” Kim says. “They really seem to be interested in you.”
Kim has been diligent about screening herself for new moles and has had three non-cancerous moles removed. She’s taken on a new job as a fitness specialist at a cardiac rehabilitation clinic and continues to work as a personal trainer in Pilates and teaches water prenatal fitness classes.
“After being off of work for a year, it’s good to be active again,” Kim says. In addition to her western medicine, Kim takes advantage of alternative medicine as well, and sees a naturopathic oncologist, and participates in Reiki, reflexology, and energy massage as a means of taking control back from cancer.
“I have worked on reconditioning my mind when I hear the words cancer or melanoma,” she says. “I have made the shift from being reactive to just being. That has been my goal.”
When Kim comes to SCCA, she sits in the chairs that face the Vessel, the towering aluminum, steel, and glass sculpture that sits on the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center campus. “The little lights (reflections of sun light) are kind of like my little angels talking to me, letting me know they are there to guide and protect me” she says. “That view is my prep before my scans. And it’s really important for me to see it every time I go to SCCA, regardless of the weather. The view is part of my peace and healing. That’s the feeling I have when I go there. I can’t imagine going anywhere else.”<< PREVIOUS | NEXT >>