In June of 2012, after Dave took a shower – Deb noticed a really dark mole on his right shoulder. It was next to one that she knew he had, but this one was new. He finally went in for a physical in November of 2012. Dr. Louters took one look and said that he was 95 percent sure that it was cancer.
In June of 2012, after Dave took a shower – Deb noticed a really dark mole on his right shoulder. It was next to one that she knew he had, but this one was new. He finally went in for a physical in November of 2012. Dr. Louters took one look and said that he was 95 percent sure that it was cancer. It was black and had rough edges. He had a biopsy and removed it – sent it in and yes, it was cancer – that was in December.
The New Ulm Medical Center (NUMC) acted fast. Dave and Deb both indicated how very impressed they were with everyone they had to work with to help Dave.
They injected a radioactive dye in Dave’s shoulder to see if it went to his lymph nodes in his neck or under his arm. Sure enough, it went toward his nodes under his arm, but hope remained it hadn’t gone into the lymph nodes. On Jan. 25, 2013, they removed a larger mass and the three sentinel lymph nodes under his right arm. All three tested positive for cancer. The NUMC (Dr. Piroso) sent him to a specialist in the Cities. A PET scan was done on Feb. 14 and on Feb. 28, they removed 14 more nodes and these tested negative. They have to actually remove the nodes and dissect them to check for cancer. The Christians were told that if these 14 revealed cancer, that there would not have been anything they could do for him.
As it was, he was diagnosed with stage 3A melanoma skin cancer.
“It’s always the other person who has cancer,” noted Dave.
Dr. Piroso in New Ulm had advised them that they could treat him here, but since they don’t see a lot of this type of cancer, they preferred he get treatment in the Cities, where they see and deal with it more often. The Christians were very thankful for the doctor’s honesty.
The couple went to the Allina affiliated hospital in Fridley for Dave’s chemo – and were able to stay at the Hope Lodge in Minneapolis where they stayed for one month. The Christians have nothing but praise about the Hope Lodge. Dave said, “It was like staying in a Five Star Hotel.”
In order to get into the Hope Lodge they had to be referred by Dr. Cassandra Anderson from the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute, who is a specialist in melanoma and breast cancer.
However, Dave was ready to quit after the second day of treatments – he was given Interferon which caused severe pain to radiate down his right leg, chills and an achy body with flu-like symptoms. Deb convinced him to hold on and the next day they spoke to the doctor and he was given some additional medication to help him relax.
After he started his treatments Dave lost his appetite and 40 pounds. He noted that his cravings have since changed and he doesn’t crave red meat anymore. His treatments made him so tired that he slept 18 hours a day. He was given his IV treatment through a port, and each treatment lasted three to three-and-a-half hours each day. His right arm is still very weak as he lost muscle mass in his shoulder during the surgery. He will never have that back 100 percent.
After spending a month getting treatments in Fridley at Unity Hospital, Dave was able to give himself home shots; Sylatron once a week –a form of interferon. He also sees a dermatologist in Mankato every three months.
Dave said Deb was a great nurse and caregiver. She had to take his temperature every three hours and give him his medications at specific times of the day and night. Deb also kept a daily journal of times of medications, temperatures, reactions, changes in food or him, etc. She also had to get him from Minneapolis to Fridley (26 miles round trip) every day and to therapy appointments two to three times a week. They were in the Twin Cities Monday through Friday and home on weekends.
They are so thankful for their family and friends as they wanted life for their 14- year-old-son, Mitchell, to remain as normal as possible. His two older brothers helped take care of him during the week while he went to school and his aunts kept him well fed.
Dr. Jade Anderson stayed on top of the medications – they feel lucky that the first treatment he tried worked. They also put him on Lorazepam to relax him and an anti-depressant, which is normal. The treatment really knocked down his immune system and he always has to be careful of his right side.
At first Dave indicated he didn’t like to talk about the fact that he had cancer, but now he realizes how important it is to share his story with everyone to bring awareness. He didn’t catch it early, but is still lucky they caught it when they did.
Dr. Benzmiller in Mankato is Dave’s current dermatologist. Dave has since had six more moles removed just as a precaution.
“At your age you do not get new moles. It can kill you, Dave,” said his doctor.
To date there is no cure for melanoma. When doctors remove it, there are not enough cells or tissues to experiment with.
Dave has worked with the City of New Ulm for over 28 years as a Building Official and just recently retired. He said the city was accommodating to him, giving him time off when needed. He was also a fireman for 21 years.
Deb works for SouthPoint Federal Credit Union and said SouthPoint was really amazing through all of this as well.
The couple has five children together ranging in age from 14 to 27. Dave has three sisters and Deb has two sisters and a brother.
Dave is now done with his treatments as of May 29. His first treatment began on April 25, 2013.
He now has to go back every four months for a CT scan and blood work in Fridley and he continues to see Dr. Piroso in New Ulm and Dr. Benzmiller in Mankato, every four months.