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Jo G's Fundraiser:

Jo Climbs Mount Whitney

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EVENT DATE: Aug 10, 2015

Jo G


In July 2014 I was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma.  I was blessed enough to be enrolled in a Phase I/II clinical trial through Merck at UCLA, and since August have staged what I self-dub the "comeback of the century."  Now that I'm able to walk again, I've decided to try and conquer something I've ALWAYS wanted to do: Climb the tallest peak in the contiguous USA: the formidable Mount Whitney in Lone Pine, CA- standing an impressive 14,505 feet (4,421 m)!

Regardless of whether I summit or not (you bet your ass I'm planning to though), all your donations will go to the UCLA Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation to fund ground-breaking new cancer research and treatments that help the lives of patients like myself live longer, healthier, happier lives.  It made a huge difference in my life, and is one of the reasons I am still here today, so please donate!



As many of you know, in July 2014 I was diagnosed with stage IV melanoma.  This was a particularly sneaky form of skin cancer as there were no visible signs of the illness such as moles or irregular skin lesions that you would normally associate with melanoma and my bloodwork/labs all came out stellar.  Instead, one day I found myself with slight pain in my left knee, nothing unusual since I was highly active and had an old volleyball injury from highschool.  On June 1st I was completing a flying trapeze class at the Santa Monica Pier, and a week later I found myself almost unable to walk out of the blue.

Two orthopedic visits later and doctors still couldn't tell me what was wrong with my knee.  I was finally referred to UCLA Oncology and a biopsy confirmed that I had melanoma in my left shin/ankle/knee region.  A subsequent PET CT scan confirmed that it was stage IV and had spread to my bone, lymph nodes, liver, and lungs.  At the time of diagnosis in mid-July I was unable to walk and confined to my bed and a wheelchair, both because of the immobility in my leg from the multiple lesions and general weakness and worse progression of the illness.

To describe the rollercoaster of emotions and ups-and-downs that followed the next two weeks of my life would be futile.  During that time however I tried my hardest to not 'lose my shit' and to stay positive and always maintain even the smallest base level of faith and hope.  I always believed deep down inside that "things will work out, because they always do."

And things did work out. 

I was sooooo lucky to be referred to one of the top melanoma researchers and specialists in the country, and right  in my backyard and old stomping grounds here at UCLA!  I met with Dr. Antoni Ribas and we quickly formulated a game plan to "attach this cancer" and stop it dead in its tracks.  I read an inch-thick stack of patient consent forms and warnings prior to enrollment in the trial. 

I googled what Lance Armstrong did when he found out he had cancer, the answer: research.  He researched and educated himself about his illness and the various treatment options.  I followed suit but I didn't go overboard: I wanted to be an educated and knowledgeable patient, but I didn't want to be inundated with too much noise.  And I wanted to keep it positive, only good stories and good statistics, otherwise keep it to yourself. 

I was lucky enough to enroll in a clinical trial developed by Merck that coupled two ground-breaking targeted-therapy drugs with a new experimental immunotherapy IV infusion by Merck called MK-3475, or Pembrolizumab.  At the time the drug was not FDA approved yet, but I'm happy to report that Pembrolizumab- now known by its generic name Keytruda- received Breakthrough Approval for melanoma treatment through the FDA on Sept 4, 2014.

Before my treatment I had huge tumors that could be both seen and felt, particularly on my shin, behind my knee, and an especially painful one in my hip/waist.  I was on 50mg of Oxycontin a day just to withstand the pain, and finding any sort of comfortable position to lie in was impossible.  I spent 23 hours a day lying on my couch in the living room staring out the same window at the same view, for three months.  Lemme tell you, that kind of confinement gives a person a lot of time to think.  TOO much time to think.  My only field trips were to the hospital 3x a week for my doctor visits.  I finally started my first dose of pills and IV infusion on Friday, August 1st.  Three days later, the first of the golf-ball sized tumors started to flatten. 

To say that my recovery has been nothing short of an act of God and a miracle is an understatement.  By day five that tumor and three others were gone. 

If I had to characterize my recovery, it would be as we on Wall Street say, a "V-shaped recovery," meaning the swiftness with which my health went downhill was absolutely astounding to me, but the incredible recovery afterwards has been equally jaw-dropping. 

I am grateful each and every morning for being able to wake up healthy, strong, and for just being able to walk around on my own, unassisted and mobile again.  It's truly a gift none of us should ever take for granted, and I am SO grateful for my incredible circle of family, friends, co-workers and colleagues who gave me such amazing support and positivity throughout this whole ordeal, so thank you everyone so much!!!  I couldn't have done it without you, and each of your voicemails, texts, emails and calls helped me to stay fighting another day when I was feeling down.

I now hope to help other cancer patients by donating to the UCLA Jonsson Cancer Center Foundation to help the physicians and researchers at UCLA continue to make ground-breaking new discoveries in cancer treatment that not only save the lives of their patients, but also preserve our quality of life, and maybe even increase and expand it.

Thank you and God bless,



Merck Clinical Trials

UCLA Jonsson Cancer Center

Info on Keytruda




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Jo G

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