On August 19, 2005, Xiomara Goicoechea’s doctor said those three words no one ever wants to hear – “You have cancer”. Skin cancer – Melanoma, to be exact. As if receiving that news wasn’t enough, Goicoechea had a two year old at home and was also eight months pregnant with her second child at the time of her diagnosis. Because treatment couldn’t begin until after Goicoechea gave birth, the cancer began spreading at a frightening speed. “I had tumors literally popping out of my skin. You could see them,” said Goicoechea. “It was really hard because I had my baby in my belly and my boy was only two years old. I look back at that time now and don’t know how I found the strength to pull through.” Goicoechea underwent surgery in October of 2005 to have the cancer removed and was scheduled to begin radiation treatments. But the night before she was to receive her first treatment, she found yet another tumor protruding from her underneath her right breast. The cancer had returned, this time as a metastatic stage IV, which meant surgery or radiation treatments were no longer an option. Metastatic melanoma is the deadliest form of the disease, and occurs when cancer spreads beyond the surface of the skin to other organs, such as the lymph nodes, lungs, brain, pancreas, liver and other areas of the body. A PET CT scan taken of Goicoechea during this time depicts small black dots throughout her entire body. Each of those black dots represents the areas of Goicoechea’s body that was affected by cancer. “Four months had passed and I thought, for sure, I was going to lose this battle. That’s when I learned that Mount Sinai was looking for participants to be part of a clinical research study to test a new treatment for melanoma,” said Goicoechea. At that time, the Mount Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Center was the only site in South Florida conducting an experimental research trial which resulted in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of YERVOY, a new treatment for patients with metastatic melanoma. Dr. Jose Lutzky, Melanoma Program Director at Mount Sinai, immediately enrolled Goicoecha in the trial. Delivered in four infusions, three weeks apart, YERVOY enables a patient’s own immune cells to fight the cancer. YERVOY is the first treatment for metastatic melanoma approved by the FDA in over a decade and the only one to demonstrate a significant improvement in overall survival. Dr. Lutzky explains that among the study participants “about 30 percent benefitted from the treatment in that they had either a complete response, a partial shrinkage of the tumor, or they had stabilization of disease. That is, the tumor stopped growing.” Dr. Lutzky also coauthored the article about the study that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Goicoechea’s first infusion was delivered in January of 2006. After two treatments, she started to see her tumors literally shrink before her eyes. Five years later, there is no trace of melanoma anywhere. A PET CT scan taken in 2010 shows that all those “black dots” that represented areas of her body affected by the cancer, had all disappeared. “I feel blessed and extremely happy to be able to raise my kids and to keep doing what I love to do.” Yervoy is now available for use in patients with inoperable melanoma or if the cancer has come back after other treatments. The incidence of melanoma has been increasing for the last 30 years. There are a variety of risk factors for melanoma, including a family history of the disease, atypical moles and frequent, long-term exposure to the sun. People with fair skin or those that are unable to tan also have a greater risk of developing the disease. Regardless, melanoma can occur in all individuals of any ethnic background, as well as on areas of the body without extensive sun exposure. To find out if you are at risk for developing melanoma, then call 305-535-3333 to reserve your FREE skin screening on Thursday, June 16th, from 4:30pm – 6:00pm at the Mount Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Center located at 4306 Alton Road.. To find a Mount Sinai doctor that’s right for you, call 305-674-CARE (2273) or visit www.msmc.com.