Voice over: College, senior year, a cancer diagnosis. Before graduation, a crash course, Cancer 101. The student and patient, Addison, quizzes her doctor, Jason Luke, on the lifesaving thesis he drafted on using immunotherapy as part of her cancer treatment.
Dr. Luke: What did it feel like to be diagnosed with melanoma when you were 21?
Addison Brush: It's kind of funny. I didn't really know what melanoma was. And I told my mom and her reaction was probably more significant than me hearing it myself. And she found within the day the best melanoma specialist in the area on his day off. And I was seeing him by that afternoon.
Jason Luke, MD: And so you went forward and had standard treatment with surgery and they took out a lymph node?
Addison Brush: Yeah.
Dr. Luke: How did that all go and what did you think about that as you were going through it?
Addison Brush: Melanoma doesn't feel like anything. It's your skin. You feel the surgery. You feel side effects from treatments. Immunotherapy is a whirlwind because there is no standard set of side effects. And so you kind of have to prepare for everything which almost makes you just prepare for nothing because you don't know what's going to happen. That was my senior year of college. I was really focused on my education and finishing school on time. I don't remember feeling like it was any sort of life-threatening or life-changing event at that time. It wasn't until way later that I felt that way. My boyfriend, Nathan, and I, we were on our second date making dinner at his house. He's outside getting the grill ready, and my tongue starts fluttering. I'm chopping up something in the kitchen and I'm like, "How embarrassing if he comes in and I can't talk to him." So I head to his bathroom to just wait it out, and I had a seizure in his bathroom. So he came in and found me seizing. He called 911, and the ambulance took me to the nearest hospital. They found a tumor the size of a walnut in an area of my brain that controlled my speech. I immediately talked to a neurosurgeon about getting it out as soon as possible. That's when I was like, "Okay. This is for real. This is scary."
Dr. Luke: So how did you process that?
Addison Brush: My roommate at the time came with me for the results that showed the brain tumor. So it's me and my 24-year-old girlfriend sitting in there. And we walked out, and we went and got ice cream because ice cream helps everything.
Dr. Luke: Do you remember what your interactions were like with your parents? How did they talk to you? What did they say?
Addison Brush: My parents were surprisingly calm on the phone. And we set a date. There was a little hope left in me that it wasn't cancerous. And then after brain surgery, I remember waking up in the bed and asking if it was melanoma. My parents nodded their heads. And that was a hard moment because I knew I was in for a long haul. That's when you came in.
Dr. Luke: I've always been somebody who's just moving 100 miles an hour all the time. I have to stop for a second and think like, "Oh my god. What would it be like to have your child have to go through something like this?" It's very hard to think about. How did you decide who your best doctors were going to be?
Addison Brush: I think finding the right doctor is crucial. You came in to one of our appointments, and you're younger than a lot of the doctors that I had seen. And you talk very quickly. You're clearly incredibly smart and up on your research. And we all admired your hair because you have some flow.
Dr. Luke: Well, I'm glad to know that these are elements of decision-making.
Addison Brush: You told my parents and me that you had been thinking about the treatment plan over the weekend, and you were 100% certain to go with this plan. And it was that trust we had in you that is so important. And you made that decision that ultimately is credited for saving my life. You're in the field of researching melanoma, which has huge strides right now and huge advancements. And it's probably one of the most exciting cancers because you are curing cases. Do you think immunotherapy is going to be the answer, ultimately?
Dr. Luke: Well, I think as we are learning more about immune system treatments for cancer, it's become apparent that what we had missed previously is the reason that other treatments worked because of the immune system. And so to that extent, I would say yes, absolutely. Immunotherapy is going to become an important part of most cancer treatments. But I also have to frankly say that our ability to truly understand what's going on is honestly quite neophyte. And so there's a lot more to do there.
Addison Brush: When I received my remission diagnosis, you were on paternity leave. I've always wondered, do you feel like you missed out on telling me about remission?
Dr. Luke: The answer is definitely yes. It really is meaningful to be able to be there in that moment and deliver news like that. I think about my role as an oncologist, it's really to help support people as they go through their journey and provide them with the best information and care that I can. You only have to see it in a case like yours once and you'll keep doing it every day just in hopes that you could see it again.
Voice over: Addison graduated. She's now a CPA. Dr. Luke, a Conquer Cancer grant recipient, continues to explore immunotherapy research. To ensure researchers like Dr. Luke keep uncovering new and better cancer treatments, donate to Conquer Cancer today. Visit conquer.org/donate.