The doctor becomes a patient

The doctor becomes a patient

15 September 2017

GP and father of three, Dr Michael Armstrong, shares his melanoma story and describes what it meant for him to be given the opportunity to be on a clinical trial at MIA. 

In February 2014, my wife, Mary-Anne, detected a small thin melanoma from the right side of my forehead. A wide total excision was performed with clear margins and I was given an excellent prognosis.

All was well until late June 2015 when I noticed a small firm lymph node in front of my right ear. I had this biopsied and metastatic melanoma was detected. A PET scan showed some further lymph node involvement.

In July 2015 I underwent extensive head and neck surgery. Pathology showed high-grade melanoma disease involving three lymph nodes. I was diagnosed with Stage III melanoma.

Shortly after my discharge from the Mater Hospital, Professor Georgina Long became involved in my care. I was offered the opportunity to be a participant in a trial comparing two drugs, ipilimumab and nivolumab. These drugs acted by stimulating the body’s immune system to eliminate cancer cells. As my prognosis was guarded at best I was grateful for this chance and agreed to become involved in the five year clinical trial.

I was made fully aware of the significant risks involved in the treatment and the personal commitment that the trial would involve. The trial commenced in early September 2015 and the intravenous infusions continued for 12 months. The Patricia Ritchie Centre at the Mater became my second home and I was constantly monitored with blood tests every one or two weeks and scans every three months. The active treatment finished in September 2016 and I have been monitored by Professor Long and her team regularly since then.

A slight setback occurred in September 2016 when a PET scan showed some possible renewed melanoma activity but subsequent biopsies were fortunately negative and my most recent PET scan was entirely normal.

The treatment has not been without minor problems: I have experienced significant dermatitis and my thyroid gland function has been totally supressed but these inconveniences have been a small price to pay.

So currently, I am disease free. There's no indication of active disease at the moment. My prognosis is now much better than it was. I still work and I see a very positive outcome. Whilst recurrence may occur I continue to be closely monitored.

My family and I will be forever grateful to the team at Melanoma Institute Australia, to the staff at the Patricia Ritchie Cancer Centre, to my excellent and skilled surgeons Professor Jonathan Stretch and Dr Kerwin Shannon and their anaesthetists and colleagues at the Mater Hospital, and particularly Professor Georgina Long and her associates who have all contributed to giving me a second chance at life.

Read more about the clinical trial that Michael was involved in.