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Revolutionary Immunotherapy and Ben & Jerry’s: A Melanoma Patient’s Story

Read Time: 4 minutes

From time to time, Huntsman Cancer Institute invites guest commentary from our community. The views reflected in these commentaries are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Max Rosett, former Huntsman Cancer Institute patient,smiling in front of tree
Max Rosett

When I was 20, I took my youngest brother camping on the Fourth of July. As I lay in the tent that night, I ran my finger along the four inches of skin between the scar on my cheek and the lump in my neck. A melanoma had been removed from my face three months earlier, and since then, I had hoped the disease would stay firmly in my past. But on that Independence Day, I found a new lump just below my jawline – proof that the cancer was still there.

Developing melanoma as a young adult is more than a little jarring. Before I got sick, I had the typical concerns of a college student: do well in school, find an internship, and above all, spend more time with my girlfriend. And like most twenty-year-olds, I was splendidly oblivious of my own mortality.

Max Rosett and girlfriend smiling and posing in front of national park

Without warning, cancer pulled me into a strange, alternative world. I was suddenly unique. This provided little comfort as I withdrew from college and moved back in with my parents. My vocabulary expanded to include terms like "ultrasound-guided needle biopsy." I spent a lot of time wondering if I would survive.

I began receiving treatment at Huntsman Cancer Institute as soon as I learned the cancer had spread. Melanoma is a dangerous disease; the survival statistics available at the time were considerably less optimistic than I would have liked. I needed the best care available, and that’s exactly what I received.

Huntsman Cancer Institute got the big things right. Dr. Jason Hunt spent eight hours removing the tumor and lymph nodes from my neck. Then I was enrolled in a clinical trial for a revolutionary immunotherapy. That combination saved my life.

Surgeries and immunotherapy alone would not have healed me. I still aspired to live the life I imagined before I got sick, but I was literally and figuratively scarred. My care team at Huntsman Cancer Institute addressed that. I worked with a physical therapist to fix a head tilt caused by my surgical scar tissue. I met many times with a social worker who helped me navigate the emotional fog. There was even one memorable visit to a dietician; she handled it well when I admitted that I’d eaten nothing that day except an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s.

Listing all those experiences doesn’t quite capture my experience as a patient at Huntsman Cancer Institute. My doctors were always willing to take the time to answer my numerous, detailed questions. The nurses in the ICU after my surgeries were skilled, and attentive, but they were also just kind. (My dad particularly appreciated that two of them asked if he was my brother.) Every time I walked into clinic 2C, Pam and Patti would greet me by name from behind the front desk. Simply put, I felt like I mattered.

I’ve now been cancer free for more than a decade. My life is far better than I could have imagined as a scared, newly diagnosed patient. I’m healthy and active, and the aforementioned girlfriend is now my wife. During that decade, two things have become apparent to me. One, I’ve become painfully aware of just how common cancer is. A disease that once made me feel unique has afflicted far too many friends and family members.

The other is that I’ve watched researchers and clinicians at places like Huntsman Cancer Institute make tremendous advances in treating cancer. The drug that I received in my clinical trial was the first of a wave of immunotherapies that have reshaped oncology. Survival rates have doubled for melanoma patients like me, and diseases that were effectively untreatable a decade ago now have multiple drugs available. Making progress in cancer treatment takes a lot of time and resources, but it is possible.

That’s why I’ve taken to raising money for Huntsman Cancer Institute, in part through completing unreasonably long bike rides. I’m currently training to ride all 203 miles of LoToJa this fall. There’s a personal side to these rides – a strenuous celebration of my restored health – but I also know that donations made by my friends and family will fund essential research and tremendously benefit countless cancer patients.

Max Rosett posing with bike on mountain road

Cancer touches all of us.