Mark Stefanovich "The tumors are shrinking"

In 2005, while Mark Stefanovich, D.Sc, PhD, was on sabbatical in Oregon from the American University in Bulgaria where he taught anthropology, doctors discovered a small lesion on his left pectoral.

“They operated, found it was malignant melanoma, removed it, and that was that — there were no further complications,” he relates. “Fast forward to 2017. I’d retired from my teaching job and settled in Desert Hot Springs, where I take care of my elderly mother who has a house there. My two kids live in Boston but one daughter goes to George Washington University (GWU), so we decided to all meet in Washington, DC, that summer."

“While I was there, I wasn’t feeling well; I felt weak,” he continues. “I went to the GWU hospital emergency room and they said I was just dehydrated. I went back to the ER in about two weeks and they did an MRI. One of the doctors said there might be ‘something there’ related to my earlier melanoma. That was the first time in 12 years that had come up.”

It turns out that Dr. Stefanovich’s melanoma had recurred in the form of a tumor that was wrapped around the central section of his abdomen. When he returned to the desert at the end of August 2017, he underwent surgery to remove the tumor. Post-surgical testing revealed some “rogue” melanoma cells remained in his body, however.

While Dr. Stefanovich had been screened for potentially malignant moles, this was an entirely new issue.

“At that stage, I went to see Dr. Varun Gupta who specializes in melanoma,” Dr. Stefanovich says. “That’s when I got involved in a clinical trial.”

“Through this trial, we are testing whether it’s more efficacious to first use immunotherapy or a targeted treatment in treating his melanoma,” explains Dr. Gupta, Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Medical Oncology.

“I was first randomized to one of the treatment possibilities and it didn’t do anything,” Dr. Stefanovich says. “Then I was moved to this treatment and it’s working very nicely. The tumors are shrinking.”

The 74-year-old takes oral medications in 45-day regimens.

“I haven’t had any real side effects,” he says. “I’ve had some other health issues unrelated to the cancer that they’ve discovered and addressed — another benefit of being in the trial. And as long as the drugs are working, I’ll continue to be in the study."

“I can only say that this program has been absolutely stupendous,” he continues. “Dr. Gupta’s team is really superb, and I trust them completely.”