Fifteen years after being diagnosed with melanoma, considered one of the most dangerous of all cancers, Marana resident Kate Tuchscherer hasn’t given up the fight.
The vicious form of skin cancer can be lethal if it enters the bloodstream or infiltrates any major body organs, but Tuchscherer isn’t living in fear.
On her road to recovery, Tuchscherer has visited five different cancer centers, received 16 surgeries, and had 38 tumors removed from her body.
Tuchscherer is still breathing. She’s still fighting. She’s still laughing.
Her survival has been largely dependent on a couple of factors, namely a personalized medicine known as Zelboraf, and a stubborn, can-do attitude.
“I’m a very strong-willed person,” she said. “This cancer is not me. I’m Kate. When I got diagnosed, I thought, I’m not going to put up with this, and I trudged forward with every bit of my being. I’m going to keep going.”
Tuchscherer became one of only a few candidates for a medical study at the University of California, Los Angeles, where scientists and doctors tested the then new drug Zelboraf, initiated by the Roche Group and later approved by the Federal Drug Administration in August 2011.
Tuchscherer noticed near-immediate results from the drug.
“Three days after I started taking it, my tumors began shrinking,” she said.
Zelboraf works by blocking the action of an abnormal protein that signals cancer cells to multiply, thereby slowing the spread of cancer cells.
“What I found extremely rewarding in this experience was to see everyone involved giving their absolute best every single day, and showing the willingness to tackle any challenge along the way,” said Flavia Borellini, Zelboraf Lifecycle Leader. “The focus we kept on patients made everyone so passionate, driven, and not afraid of taking smart risks.”
The groundbreaking discovery was one of the first to come in 30 years for victims of melanoma.
Tuchscherer has been on the drug for about two years now.
According to the National Cancer Institute, melanoma is the leading cause of death from skin disease. In 2010, the Institute estimated that 68,130 new cases of melanoma were diagnosed in the United States in 2010, with about 8,700 of those victims dying from the disease.
Tuchscherer offered some advice for individuals who have recently been, or will be diagnosed with any form of cancer.
“You can’t think that a doctor is going to be your savior,” she said. “You are your own advocate, and the only one who is going to get yourself squared away. You have to have a lot of backbone, fight for yourself, be a very strong person, and believe you can overcome something this tragic to keep on living.”
Tuchscherer has been an active advocate for raising cancer awareness, having participated in melanoma walks in 2009 and 2011, and plans to participate in this year’s walk on Oct. 20 in Tucson.
She is also involved in promoting Angel Flight West, a non-profit organization that offers flights free of charge for cancer patients who don’t have the means to travel to the locations necessary to receive proper treatment.
In the spirit of raising money and awareness, Stand Up To Cancer, a televised program, will return to primetime television on Sept. 7, with a star-studded cast of celebrities putting on a variety of stage performances to encourage donations from the public on behalf of cancer victims. The show will air on ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC at 8 p.m. EST and PST, and 7 p.m. CST.