Doctors near Byrd’s home in Midland, NC, removed the mole and surrounding area, however, that mole was just the beginning. Within two years, more growths appeared on her leg. Byrd was referred to Duke, after doctors discovered the melanoma had spread to her lymph nodes, which were removed. “It came back stage 3,” said Byrd. “It was heart breaking.”
Treatment options for melanoma are somewhat limited after surgery. Melanoma is resistant to chemotherapy and radiation. Immunotherapy, such as interferon stimulates the body to attack the cancer cells. But the success rate is low, and side effects include exhaustion, flu-like symptoms and depression.
“Initially I declined treatment because I thought, ‘I’m not going to go through those horrible side effects if there’s only a 10 percent chance it will help me anyway,” Byrd said.
She changed her mind when the melanoma returned. After the interferon failed, the next step was a treatment called regional chemotherapy. A tourniquet at the top of her leg stopped concentrated doses of chemotherapy from reaching the rest of her body. While that procedure can benefit some people, it didn’t work for Byrd. She underwent another version of regional chemotherapy in which the drugs were administered for longer periods of time through catheters in her abdomen.
By this time, Byrd could barely walk. “I had to have a hip replacement. The cancer had spread to my liver, lungs and brain. It was stage 4.”