Donor profile: Mark Williams

Mark Williams was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma in 2007, a late stage with an average survival of six months. Thanks to an immunotherapy supported by Providence Portland Medical Foundation, Mark is tumor-free today and sharing his story.

What treatment did you receive for your cancer?
I received high-dose interleukin-2 over six months. I also had one additional surgery and 25 rounds of radiation.
How does it work?
Your body's immune system already has IL-2 protein in it. This therapy boosts the amount of IL-2 to make your T cells super-aggressive. The T cells hunt for bad cells to kill – melanoma tumor cells being their main target.

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Then the goal is to get this every eight hours for five days, so it’s an inpatient therapy. The downside is the side effects: Think of your worst case of the flu and multiply by about 10.

But as Dr. [Brendan] Curti explained, most of the side effects are manageable and reversible. I usually recovered within four days and went back to work.

Only about 15 to 20 percent of people who are eligible to receive this treatment actually do it. Providence has one of the highest success rates with this therapy so hopefully this number will increase.

The treatment works for only a fraction of patients. Why do you think you responded so well?
Why the treatment works on only about 10 to 12 percent of patients is not clear, but researchers are trying to figure it out. I think it helped that I was pretty healthy to start, although I was stage IV with more than 14 tumors when I was diagnosed. I had been working out for several years and felt good.

How has cancer changed you?
Cancer makes you look at everything – family, friends, life in general – in a different light. You let the little things slide. You enjoy every day as a gift. You never take anything for granted. You hug your wife, kids and grandkids a little longer. You learn to take life one day at a time.

Where do you find inspiration?
From my family and new grandson! Also, from friends and the wonderful people at Providence – from Dr. Curti, who came in on his day off to see me the first time; to Sarah Linehan, who guides you through the process; to the great nurses, who knew when to be a friend and when to be serious.

I’ve said this before, if Dr. Curti said I needed to take IL-2 again I would. These are true professionals, but they have the human touch. Providence Cancer Center is “the center of hope.”

What’s next for you?
I'm still running my business [Wilsonville Carpet and Tile], although on a smaller scale. I mentor other melanoma patients who are thinking of taking IL-2. I try and tell my story to raise awareness and also to encourage people to "don't stop believin’ "

A perfect day is …
Every day I remain cancer-free is a perfect day! Seeing others have a positive response to IL-2 or other therapies makes me feel like progress is being made. Breaking 90 in golf would follow right behind ... oops, sorry, just wishful thinking there.

Why should we give?
As we all know, cancer is such a devastating disease. But Providence provides world-class doctors, researchers, nurses and staff. Providence helps everyone. This is what made my wife and me decide that this is where we want our charitable dollars to be spent.