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Leigh Raymer - Patient Story

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“I cannot thank Dr. Reddy enough for his infectious positivity, ability to make exceptions, and treatment tailored to my needs.”

— Leigh Raymer, New Mother and Melanoma Survivor

 

In 2015, I was anticipating the birth of my son. My husband, Tyler, and I, who both train Standardbred race horses in Smyrna, DE, met at a horse sale. We were married in 2012, and our baby boy was our gift—we had three miscarriages before him.

At the time, I was 32 years old and realized a spot on my face changed texture and kept breaking open, so I went to see a dermatologist. By the time I had my appointment, I was a couple months pregnant. Due to my pregnancy, the dermatologist couldn’t use all-numbing medicine for my biopsy, so it was painful.

When the biopsy results came back from the spot on my face, I was very surprised by the results. The spot was basal cell carcinoma. That test saved my life. I planned on waiting until after the birth of my son to remove the growth on my face, but it might have spread by that point. I underwent surgery to have the basal cell carcinoma removed and was checked every three months with scans every six months.

I also found a growth on my leg a couple of months after a scan. The spot had been a flat mole that had become raised and was a pain to shave around. Initially, because it hadn’t changed in color, didn’t hurt or itch, and I considered it cosmetic, I didn’t feel it warranted medical attention and didn’t show it to the dermatologist. However, the growth on my leg changed dramatically. It bubbled into the size of a pencil eraser and kept bleeding. I attributed it to shaving and still did not consider discussing it with my dermatologist. But my husband suggested I show the doctor, who said the growth didn’t look bad, but because it bothered me, my dermatologist removed it.  

Three weeks went by, and there was no word from the doctor. However, in late June, I received a phone call on my cell as my husband and I were on our way to vacation on a lake in Georgia. We were two hours into a 12-hour trip and hadn’t quite made it to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge when the dermatologist called to tell me I had malignant melanoma. I pulled over and started to cry. I will never forget that call. The doctor, whose tone was very serious, suggested I come in right away. I turned around and looked at my son in the back seat. He was only 2 months old.

On the trip home, I was very emotional. The following morning, I started researching cancer hospitals. Using Google, I searched key words like “melanoma” and “best cancer hospital.” Six hospitals came up. I called each one, and the only hospital that could see me quickly was Fox Chase Cancer Center. They offered to see me right away, and I was familiar with Fox Chase because my grandmother was treated there for breast cancer.

I called and spoke with Bonnie Carolan-McNulty, a nurse navigator, who was wonderful, upbeat, very caring, and sympathetic. Bonnie referred me to Dr. Sanjay S. Reddy, a surgical oncologist who specializes in treating patients with melanoma. I was scheduled to see Dr. Reddy just two days after my initial call to Fox Chase. 

The day before my Fox Chase appointment, I met with my dermatologist, who cried when he told me my biopsy results. I had a Clark’s Stage 4 atypical melanoma that had ulcerated and was 3 mm deep. To prepare for my appointment, I researched Dr. Reddy and found he had great online reviews. I couldn’t have asked for a better doctor than Dr. Reddy. He scheduled my surgery within two weeks.  

During the delicate procedure, Dr. Reddy successfully removed the melanoma and achieved clear margins. The spot was just on the inside of my knee on my right leg, more toward my calf. Dr. Reddy had to remove the full segment along with the sentinel nodes in my groin.

Dr. Reddy referred me to his colleague, Sameer A. Patel, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Fox Chase, to perform reconstructive surgery on my leg. Following the surgery, my pathology was sent to a lab.

On July 21, 2015, which was my 33rd birthday, I texted Dr. Reddy asking if he had received the results on my lymph nodes. Within 20 minutes, Dr. Reddy called and explained that the results came back negative, meaning my lymph nodes were cancer-free and he had achieved all clear margins of the malignant melanoma. I think I might have told him I loved him. It was the best birthday present I’ve ever received: my health.  

I continue to see Dr. Reddy and Dr. Misha Mutizwa, a dermatologist at Fox Chase, for follow-up care. The whole team at Fox Chase is amazing. I was blessed to have Dr. Reddy as my surgeon. He went above and beyond in every circumstance. He made sure I could keep breastfeeding through everything, which was huge to me. I cannot thank Dr. Reddy enough for his infectious positivity, ability to make exceptions, and treatment tailored to my needs.

Tyler, Rory and Leigh RaymerTyler, Rory and Leigh Raymer

My life is very rich. I’m very lucky to have support from family and friends. My son is now almost 2 years old, and I get to stay home with him a lot. Becoming a mother made me truly appreciate my health. I cried a lot over my diagnosis of malignant melanoma mostly because of my son. I had just given birth to him, and my diagnosis seemed pretty serious. Having Rory motivated me to look for the best possible care I could find. It was no longer about me, but my life with my son. I now continue doing the things I enjoy: traveling with my family, playing golf, spending time with friends, and dining out. Of course, I also love to ride horses and paddle board.

I’m much more emotional now than I used to be—everything brings me to tears. Cancer has opened my eyes to enjoy the little things.

I would tell someone who has been recently diagnosed with cancer that is it OK to panic—get frantic and look at all of your options. You cannot afford, no matter how small or large your diagnosis is, to do nothing or stick to protocol. Also, find the doctor who works for you because that is the doctor you will be with your entire life. And finally, focus on how to mentally settle down so you can wrap your head around how you’re going to beat this disease.

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