Patient Survives Stage III Melanoma Thanks to UC Cancer Team

David Witt, 61, says he’s always been quite active.

Golf, tennis, running, cycling and Triathlons—there weren’t many outdoors sports activities in which he didn’t excel.

However, when a lump appeared on his neck in February 2013, he didn’t think it had anything to do with all of those years of golfing, running and biking in the sunshine.

“It just happened so fast, and it really seemed to come out of nowhere,” he says, remembering the day he was brushing his hair and noticed the lump on the side of his neck. “I just thought I’d ruptured a blood vessel during weight training.”

Witt says a physician gave him a prescription with hopes of shrinking the lump; however, when two weeks passed and the lump was still there, a biopsy was ordered.

“They told me I had Stage III melanoma and that it had to be removed,” he says. “I was completely devastated. I spent my whole life trying to take care of myself, and I thought I’d be the last person to get cancer. I was heartbroken, thinking, ‘What am I going to go through now?’ I thought it was a death sentence.”

Witt scheduled a second opinion appointment with Jeffrey Sussman, MD, professor in the Department of Surgery and surgical oncologist at the UC Cancer Institute, who arranged a consultation with multidisciplinary team of surgeons, including John Kitzmiller, MD, professor of surgery and director of the Division of Plastic, Reconstructive, Hand Surgery and Burn Surgery within the UC College of Medicine and a member of the UC Cancer Institute. The team developed a “plan of action.”

In April 2013, the UC Health surgical team removed Witt’s tumor and the lymph nodes surrounding it and performed reconstructive surgery on the scar, which spanned from Witt’s ear to his shoulder.

“It was a nine-hour surgery,” says Witt.”The mass was about two centimeters in size. I felt like I had been through a boxing match, but I was thankful for my team for doing such a thorough job and getting all of the cancer.

“Dr. Kitzmiller did such an incredible job that you can’t even see the scar. My sisters, who are nurses, even say so. He’s worth every penny he’s paid.”

Witt, who then began seeing Nagla Karim, MD, PhD, associate professor in the Division of Hematology Oncology at the UC College of Medicine and member UC Cancer Institute, as part of his follow up treatment, was put on immunotherapy after the surgery; however, this specific treatment led to the fail of his pituitary gland, and now, he must take thyroid medication, steroids and testosterone supplements. He has been seeing Nadia Yaqub, MD, associate professor of medicine in the UC Division of Endocrinology, and UC Health endocrinologist.

“Dr. Yaqub is fantastic; the treatment is just something that I have to live with, but I’m happy that I don’t have any cancer in my body after two years,” he says. “Dr. Karim, who now sees me for my chemotherapy, thinks I’m beating this. Each year that passes has me hopeful that the disease is gone for good.”

“With Mr. Witt’s strong will and his favorable physical activity, he is seemingly conquering his cancer,” Karim adds. “All recent data are suggestive that physical activity is one of the cancer prevention strategies, and here, we see an improvement of outcome and quality of life.”

“I can’t say enough about the doctors and other health care providers including those at Drake (Center for Post-Acute Care) who have treated and counseled me throughout this process,” he says. “Dr. Karim is the sweetest lady who always has a smile on her face and is always there to encourage me. She tells me, ‘You’re a testament to how athleticism can help a person overcome disease.’”

Witt is slowly getting back into cycling and is now riding daily. He says he hopes to ride his bike across the United States and raise money for cancer efforts. He is competing in the Senior Olympic Games on June 22, which are held in Westerville, Ohio. This will be his first competition since overcoming cancer.

“I have a lot of plans,” he says. “Thanks to the wonderful support of my family, including my wife Rachel, my daughter Ciarra, and my mom Barbara who took care of me at home the first week I was out surgery, as well as the others who have been there to check up on me and keep me positive, and my wonderful team of doctors, I have hope to overcome this. My advice to others is to stay mentally and physically focused—don’t dwell on the negative and keep moving forward.”

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