Roberta Knopfer: Two time survivor of metastatic melanoma

When I meet new people they often ask me “Why did you come to Goshen?” I spent most of my adult life in New Orleans and was enjoying life with my friends and my dogs when in 2005, Hurricane Katrina came along. When JoAnne Yoder, my best friend suggested we both move back to the Midwest, I knew it was a good idea. By then JoAnne had become like a sister, and her family who lived in this area had been supportive throughout the years.

During my years as a clinical social worker, I developed many friends and it was hard to think about leaving them. But one of the biggest issues about moving to Indiana was periodic trips to Texas for my follow up care for metastatic melanoma. Dr. Nicolas Papadoupolas from MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas was my medical oncologist for over twenty one years! Papa, as many of his patients referred to him, brought me through my first surgery in 1985 and again through my recurrence in 1997. The move to Indiana meant I would leave him behind and possibly trust my care to a new oncologist. Considering the path I traveled to get well, it was an important decision.

My melanoma journey began in 1984 when I lived in the French Quarter. I had finished my Masters degree at Tulane University and was working at Baptist Hospital in New Orleans. I had a mole removed from my right hip and the next year it reappeared. When the original slides were compared to the new ones, they both revealed Stage 4 melanoma. It was at this point that I learned ‘You live one day at a time, but you learn to live.” My cancer diagnosis brought a flood of cards and flowers from my friends and my co-workers at Tulane and Baptist Hospital. I went to MD Anderson and my first surgery was December 17, 1985.  JoAnne my primary caregiver remained my source of strength throughout it all. My New Orleans family continued to support me throughout the coming years. We celebrated birthdays, Hanukkah and Christmas! We laughed together and cried together, my friends were an enormous and important part of my cancer journey. I might add here that although raised in Orthodox Judaism, I have, since coming to Goshen, converted to Christianity and have acquired an additional family of friends.

After my surgery in 1985, I was vigilant to keep my follow up appointments. For many years I had CT scans of the abdomen, pelvis and chest; MRI’s of my brain, chest x-rays and blood work. Twelve years later during a routine scan, they once again found cancer. I had never felt better in my life. I was walking four miles every day. This time I was battling metastatic melanoma with a tumor in my right inguinal lymph node. My treatment plan was aggressive: three rounds of inpatient chemotherapy with Cisplatin, Velban, Interferon, Interleukin 2 and Darcarbazine. The chemotherapy regimen had been successful and the tumor had shrunk 40%. On November 6, 1997, I returned for surgery to remove the tumor and 12 lymph nodes. One week after surgery my incision site reopened and I was taken back to the hospital. It was November 26, 1997 when I finally returned home to share a very special Thanksgiving meal with my New Orleans family.

Much has happened since 1997. Hurricane Katrina caused me to leave my New Orleans family. I originally planned to continue my follow up care at MD Anderson but when I moved to Goshen I learned about Dr. Douglas Schwartzentruber. I spoke with Dr. Papadoupolas who knew of his reputation and the research work he had done. We both agreed that I would be in good hands at Goshen Center for Cancer Care. I now see Dr. Schwartzentruber each year for my follow up care. I have found that the staff at Goshen is professional yet caring and warm. I now serve as a member of the Coordinating Committee for the Goshen Cancer Survivor Network and also as a Buddy to new patients. I feel it is a privilege to be able to help others along this journey just as my friends helped me.

 

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Goshen Cancer Survivor Network
Goshen Center for Cancer Care | 200 High Park Drive Goshen, IN. | (888) 492-4673 (HOPE)

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