Melanoma - My Journey
Wagner's melanoma diagnosis has made
a real difference in his life. Thanks to the
care and support from family, friends and
the specialists at St. Luke's Cancer Center,
he is winning the battle against this very
aggressive and destructive disease.
He said, "St. Luke's ability to address my
needs in a personal way made all the
Growing up, Wagner Ferreira of Whitehall would spend hours playing semi-pro-volleyball on the beaches of Brazil. “We would be out there for hours, the entire day,” he says. “Back then, we didn't know we were doing anything wrong. There wasn't the awareness there is today about skin cancer or melanoma. We had suntan lotion, but I am fair-skinned and I still got sunburned.”
Wagner eventually moved to New York City to attend college and start a life. It wasn't until years later, in late 2002, he became concerned with a mole on his left shoulder that had changed in color. “I knew something was wrong; it didn't look right and I got scared. His primary doctor referred him to a dermatologist for follow-up. The mole was removed; it was melanoma. A lymph node biopsy was also done; this came back negative.
Wagner moved to eastern Pennsylvania in early 2003. He wasn't being seen at St. Luke's at the time, but he continued to have routine checkups to make sure nothing had changed. Then, in May 2007, he noticed a lump on his chest and had it checked. “My doctor said, ‘It's probably a cyst, but with your history, we are sending you for additional testing.’ He sent me for a P.E.T. scan,” says Wagner.
The P.E.T. scan indicated Wagner now had a few spots on his lung and a major mark on his spleen. “So, I was referred to another doctor, an oncologist at that time,” says Wagner. “He was not a melanoma specialist; he scared the heck out of me.”
My St. Luke's Cancer Team
It was at that point, Wagner made an appointment to see surgical oncologist Dr. Lee Riley at St. Luke's Cancer Center. “Dr. Riley really wanted me to see Dr. Sanjiv Agarwala, who specializes in melanoma, so I met with him,” says Wagner. “Dr. Agarwala came up with a whole plan of care for my particular case.”
Wagner learned he qualified for a clinical trial with two chemotherapy drugs, paclitaxel (Taxol) and carboplatin, with bevacizumab (Avastin), a drug that prevents the formation of new blood vessels.
Before starting this treatment, Wagner decided to travel to a renowned cancer center in New York City for a second opinion. “I just wanted to be sure,” says Wagner. “Rose Cabral from St. Luke’s clinical trials office even helped me gather all the information from my previous tests in order to facilitate their understanding of my case. The oncologist I met, well, his approach was totally different than Dr. Agarwala's. I didn't feel right there; I felt like I was treated like a number. At first, I was speaking with doctors who were just starting their training. When I finally got to speak with the expert, he gave me 15 minutes of his time and, for my personal disappointment, he was not prepared to address my questions and concerns. On the personal side, it was a very disturbing experience!”
Dr. Agarwala's Personal Approach
Wagner came back to St. Luke's for treatment. “Dr. Agarwala's approach was different; it was very personal,” says Wagner. “It was his human side that made a huge difference for me. He is honest and upfront with you, but always remains positive. That's what I love about him.”
Wagner received his treatment every three weeks in the Infusion Center at St. Luke's University Hospital – Bethlehem Campus. “I would be there for most of the day. During that time, my whole outlook about life and hope changed,” says Wagner. “I had to do my part in order to have a good chance to survive. I started exercising and watching my diet. I knew my attitude was everything. I read positive books. I had this amazing nurse in the Infusion Center, Mary Stout, who has since retired. She was the best nurse I have ever seen in my life. She would always stop and talk to me and say, ‘Wagner, with that attitude, you're going to be alright.’”
Wagner's body was accepting the treatment. “Everything was bearable and my mass was shrinking,” he says. “If I had any questions, I could always call Rose Cabral. She is exemplary, extremely caring, pro-active always able to find time to take or return my calls. She was the bridge between me and Dr. Agarwala.”
“Wagner responded exceptionally well to the trial,” says Dr. Agarwala. ““The spots on his lung disappeared and the mass on his spleen shrunk, but some small spots remained. To be safe, we decided to remove the spleen after Wagner came off the clinical trial.” This procedure, performed by surgical oncologist Dr. Darius Desai, went smoothly and pathology results from the spleen came back negative.
“After the surgery, Dr. Desai told me, ‘I feel very good about it,’” says Wagner. “Taking it out was the right thing to do.”
A Positive Difference in My Life
Through it all, Wagner's fiancé Odilia supported him. “She was living in Florida at the time of my treatment, but would call and stay on the phone with me for hours to keep me company. She was my strong and sweet support along with my parents.” The couple got married in 2010. Today, Wagner feels great and show no signs of disease.
“I have a new lease on life,” says Wagner. “Believe it or not, I am a better man now than I was before. I've started to appreciate life again, my family, my time and especially the people from St. Luke's who helped to win this battle against this very aggressive and destructive disease. Many thanks from the bottom of my heart for your hard work and dedication ‘for saving one person at a time.’ I now am engaged by talking and helping others with melanoma. There’s not a lot of good, positive information out there. Everything is doom and gloom. I want people to be aware of this disease and know there is hope. I feel greatly blessed to be able to say today, Stage IV no more!”