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El Dorado Hills resident targeting skin cancer awareness

By: Laura Newell, Features Editor
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After being diagnosed as a stage IV metastatic melanoma patient, Robert Bruce, of El Dorado Hills, was unsure about his future.

Now, almost two years later, he has beaten the odds and is continuing to fight the cancer for himself as well as others.

“May is Melanoma Awareness month which is critically important with our warm sunny climate in our region,” said Bruce. “Unfortunately, people do not realize the seriousness of this disease and how young people especially are being afflicted at an alarmingly increasing rate.”

Bruce was originally diagnosed in March 2011 and went through biocheotherapy. Typically, the prognosis for stage IV metastatic melanoma is six-nine months to live, he said.

“After six months, I started looking into clinical trials after the biocheotherapy didn’t work for me,” Bruce said. “I began a phase 1 clinical trial at UC San Francisco. I make the trek there from our home in El Dorado Hills every other Thursday for doctor appointments and infusions of this unique new immunotherapy that is working in reducing my tumor load. It is showing incredible promise for a large segment of cancer patients.”

He said the technology behind the drug his is on is truly groundbreaking. Bruce said after 12 weeks in the clinical trail his tumor level had shrunk by 30 percent, and after 24 weeks, about 70 percent.

“While dealing with the cancer by bolstering our own immune systems, it does not ‘kill’ healthy cells like most standard chemotherapies,” Bruce said. “I am seeing Dr. Adil Daud at UC San Francisco who is one of the most prominent melanoma research doctors in the world. … I (wanted) to tell my story as there is so much new research and I am a beneficiary of this new research. I have proven the ‘expected life expectancy’ numbers wrong.”

Through his diagnosis, Bruce has also become an advocate for preventing melanoma.

“This is the fastest growing cancer among young people because of teen tanning,” he said. “Mine started with a mole on my back that I didn’t think much of. So by the time I finally got it checked out about a year and a half later, I was already at stage IV. By then it had already metastasized into my lungs.”

He said one of the hardest parts of the diagnosis was watching his wife and children go through it with him.

“It was devastating for everyone, my wife and kids. But now I’m working and living life again. Now I don’t worry about not having an extra day, because I know I had an extra year and a half. … Cancer patients all say the same thing, ‘we want hope.’ This diagnosis has changed my life. It just changes everything, your life, who you hang out with and your priorities.” Bruce said. “I want people to understand how dangerous melanoma is and how preventable it can be. Now some people are pre-disposed, but for many it can be preventable. My doctor said mine was probably from a sunburn 15 years ago. Whatever you do, don’t go tanning because it will increase your risk of contracting it. I have a pool outside, but I have umbrellas and shade. And now I wear sunscreen.”

With his family by his side, Bruce will participate in the second “Miles for Melanoma 5k Run/Walk” at Universal Studios on May 4. The run, being held on Bruce’s 60th birthday, will help raise funds and awareness for melanoma.

“My children and their spouses and significant others make up ‘The Bruce Clan’ of 10 on our team,” Bruce said. “Melanoma is the deadliest skin cancer there is, and you just don’t want to get it. So take the steps for prevention.”

To help raise contributions to the Melanoma Research Foundation, donations can be made to Bruce’s fundraising page through Sunday, May 5.

To donate, visit http://events.melanoma.org/2013universal5k/robertbruce.