Jerry Tischer didn't feel sick. But a pea-sized lump on his neck suggested he might be. So Jerry went to see a doctor near his Frederic, Wisconsin, home, where the lump was biopsied and sent for testing. "They said it could be melanoma or sarcoma," Jerry tells us. "It was taking quite a while to get an answer. My nurse daughters were getting frustrated."
One of those daughters, Lindsey Menard, had worked at Mayo Clinic with Svetomir Markovic, M.D., Ph.D., a melanoma specialist. "Lindsey told him my story and he told her, 'We better get him in here,'" Jerry says. "Within a week, I was eyeball to eyeball with Dr. Markovic." Soon after, Jerry received a diagnosis of stage IV metastatic melanoma. "Things flew after that," says Jerry, who had surgery, proton beam therapy and infusion therapy to treat the aggressive cancer. "I had a wonderful team all working on the same page to take care of me," he says. "I was blessed."
Now, a year after his diagnosis, Jerry tells us he's "feeling great. I have nothing but hope and high expectations." But he also knows "this is something pretty serious." So when he heard about the 6th biannual Melanoma Education Symposium at Mayo Clinic, Jerry and his wife, Becky, quickly signed up. "It was an opportunity to hear about melanoma and what's happening with treatment and research," Jerry tells us. "Why would we not do that? It was an easy decision."
More than 100 other patients agreed, joining the Tischers at the event in Rochester. "The symposium is designed to keep patients, survivors, caregivers and health care professionals up-to-date on melanoma risk factors, screening, diagnosis and treatment options," Jess Lee, a care coordinator in Medical Oncology, tells us. "This year we also reviewed survivorship issues, including stress and resilience."
The symposium, like Jerry's care, is a team effort. "We couldn't do it without everyone's help," Lee says. That includes Dr. Markovic, who worked to launch the symposium in 2009 with staff at the Stephen and Barbara Slaggie Family Cancer Education Center, as well as staff from the Mayo Clinic School of Continuous Professional Development and the Office of Patient Education.
Funding for the event comes from the Stay Out of the Sun Run, held the evening before the symposium. Both the run and symposium were founded by Tim Burriss, a melanoma survivor we introduced you to earlier this year. Dr. Markovic says seeing Tim, Jerry and other patients "do well and be able to spend time with their families gives us all hope that the solution to this disease is not impossible, it is just not yet obvious. It is with their help that we are able to move the science forward. This is just our small way of sharing with them how our collective effort is progressing."
Those efforts have led to new knowledge and treatments that are already making a difference to patients. "Prior to 2010, things would have been very different for someone like me," Jerry says. And that's what keeps Dr. Markovic and his colleagues moving forward. "Everything that we do in clinical practice, research and education is centered on the care of our patients and support for their families," Dr. Markovic says. "The symposium is just one example of us trying to repay our patients their trust."
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Tags: Dr. Svetomir Markovic, Mayo Clinic School of Continuous Professional Development, Medical Education Stories, Melanoma, Melanoma Education Symposium, Patient Stories, Proton Beam Therapy, Stephen and Barbara Slaggie Family Cancer Education Center