Alvin’s Story: Squamous Cell Skin Cancer

Alvin Green;
Date of Diagnosis: 02/19/2020;
El Cajon, CA;
Squamous Cell Skin Cancer, High Risk, Locally Advanced;

In early 2020, my dermatologist diagnosed me with squamous cell skin cancer on my right cheek. (Later, this included my right temple.) I had been diagnosed many times with squamous cell skin cancer, and I thought this was just another skin cancer. I was wrong. This time it was different. This skin cancer was very aggressive and looked like a bright red cherry tomato on my right cheek.

The only symptom I recall having was just the mass itself, which grew very quickly. I did not feel differently.

I was not a candidate for surgery because of how fast the skin cancer was spreading. It was already spreading through the skin beyond the main area on my right cheek.

I was sent to a radiation oncologist and started radiation therapy. After one week of treatment, and following a tumor board meeting, I was referred for immunotherapy because the cancer was growing faster than the radiation treatment could destroy it.

In spite of the fact that I was not an ideal candidate for immunotherapy, because of my rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disease, my cancer team felt it was in my best interest to have the treatment anyway. I then was treated with both radiation therapy and immunotherapy and monitored very closely for any new complications or side effects. I received a total of 35 treatments of radiation therapy and 19 infusions of immunotherapy. The infusions were given every 3 weeks.

I was very fortunate because the therapy worked very well. My cancer was shrinking over the treatment period and was finally totally gone. There is no sign that I ever had a skin cancer on my cheek or temple.

When I was first diagnosed with the squamous cell skin cancer on my right cheek, I wasn’t too concerned. I have had small areas of squamous cell skin cancers before, during, and after my treatment, and these have always been treated with the Mohs procedure. However, the cancer on my right cheek acted differently. This cancer went crazy because of a type of medication I was taking for my rheumatoid arthritis. The rheumatoid arthritis medicine likely enabled the rapid growth of the cancer because my immune system was suppressed. I stopped taking that medicine based on the advice of my treating physicians, even though I was concerned about the return of my arthritis pain.

Still, in my mind, I was thinking this was just another squamous cell skin cancer like I had in the past. I never fully realized the severity of my cancer. I was later told that my cancer was locally advanced because it had spread to other areas on my cheek.

I firmly believe that my mental outlook really helped. I felt that everything would be okay, and I would get over this. I always felt very confident that I would be okay. Thus, your mental approach to cancer is very important. Never give up hope.

I received strength and support from my wife, sons, and friends. The love, concern and prayers from all of them really helped me in my cancer journey.

I wish I knew how much my cancer diagnosis affected my family and friends. You have to be aware of this and understand and accept their feelings.

I am currently cancer-free. I do have CAT scans twice a year and see my dermatologist and oncologist on regularly scheduled appointments.

My advice would be to keep a positive outlook and accept the love of those around you who are concerned. Always believe that you are going to be okay.