Skin cancer drug offers hope

Every year in Florida more than 600 people lose their battle with melanoma

By Allison McGinley - News Director

Every year in Florida, more than 600 people lose their battle with melanoma and thousands more begin their fight.

But there's hope in the form of a drug just approved by the Food and Drug Administration. 

[WEB EXTRA: Key facts on Keytruda | More information ]

Don Schulmeier has his hat firmly on his head these days. He's a rancher and former city health inspector who is paying the price for an outdoor life.

Start Center for Cancer Care oncologist Dr. Steven Kalter says there are a couple of drugs that can work, but on Schulmeier they didn't.

"He had kept himself in good shape and he was strong so this allowed him to survive when his liver was failing and then allow him the strength to respond to the therapy," said Kalter.

That therapy is called Keytruda.

An animation, created by UCLA Jonsson Cancer Center, shows how the drug works.
When cancer strikes the body's white blood cells try to fight back, but the cancer protects itself with a shield.

This new drug, Keytruda, breaks down that shield and allows the body's own immune system to battle the cancer.

Often tumors shrink and have in many cases vanished.

"I kept saying that if it's his time to go he's going to go but it's not, this new medicine is going to turn it around, it'll turn it around. My one word is 'a miracle'," said Schulmeier's wife.

The lead on the drug trials, Dr. Antoni Ribas with UCLA says he's been amazed by the drug's success.

"There is hope to take a trip to Alaska and see some of god's creations and there's hope to see these spring calves that I have go to market."

While Schulmeier is looking forward to his future his doctor has advice for others-- take heed of Schulmeier past.

"Use common sense. Wear sun block, hats, long sleeve shirts when applicable, but just enjoy life and live every day," said Kalter.

Keytruda does have side effects, but oddly enough in Schulmeier's case, he's had none and is stronger than ever, he says.

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