Ft. Wayne Cancer Patient Risks Drug Side Effects To Stay Ahead Of Disease

By Jeff Neumeyer

May 9, 2011 Updated May 9, 2011 at 4:45 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, IN (Indiana's NewsCenter) --- What would you do?

You're saddled with a terminal illness, but doctors say you could live several months longer, if you're willing to risk the side effects of a cancer drug that few people have ever taken.

It's a path Joel and Kimberly Saunders are now traveling, in a fight they refuse to surrender.

Joel Saunders/Cancer Patient: " Just been taking it one day at a time, trusting God and trusting in the doctors."

20 months ago Saunders' world was rocked by a diagnosis anyone would dread.

After painful surgeries, radiation and other treatments, his melanoma didn't fade, it advanced.

But something else had advanced; Saunders' will to live.

The cutting edge drug "Yervoy", that takes dead aim at melanoma, got FDA approval 17 days ago.

With the chance to be one of the first in the nation to say yes to the new drug, Saunders never hesitated.

Dr. Matthew Carr/FW Medical Oncology & Hematology: " Patients that receive this treatment were twice as likely to survive during both the first and second year following treatment, and that part of it is very exciting to us."

Joel Saunders: " Over the course of 12 weeks, we get four doses in and see where it goes from there."

One of the problems with cancer, the body often lags in recognizing and attacking the enemy cells.

Dr. Carr: " Yervoy takes the emergency brake off that part of the immune system. It causes the immune system to gear up, find and destroy melanoma cancer cells."

Jeff Neumeyer: " With any drug treatment, there are concerns about side effects. Joel is going to be watching for diarrhea, skin rashes, and the possibility of inflammation of the liver."

Saunders wife Kimberly was caught a little off guard by the potential downsides of Yervoy.

Kimberly Saunders/Wife: " It's very emotional, just mixed feelings, but mostly excited, because of this new drug."

The benefits can take three to six months to fully kick in.

Regardless, there'll be no regrets for Saunders, who is committed to the notion, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

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