Melvin Ward: Taking on a Neuroendocrine Tumor and COVID-19

“My care team at Fox Chase had such a confident and laid-back demeanor. We were on the same page, and their expertise made me feel more secure.”
‐Melvin Ward

As a busy husband and father, I have always had a variety of interests and hobbies that keep me busy. Along with working as a bus driver for nearly 25 years, I’ve been a comic book collector since childhood (mostly Marvel comics), I practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and I recently started hosting a podcast and making videos for YouTube. On top of all my hobbies, I have been fighting cancer for over ten years.

My cancer journey started ten years ago when I went out to a seafood restaurant for dinner. Soon after I got home, I started to feel sick with food poisoning and went to the ER. The doctor agreed that it was food poisoning but also ordered a CT scan just in case. Unfortunately, the scan revealed a mass on my pancreas, which was completely unrelated to my symptoms.

When I received this news, I was concerned about cancer. I knew it would be best to go somewhere that had a lot of experience and the latest treatments, so I went to Fox Chase for an initial opinion. After further evaluation, I was diagnosed with a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor (NET), which is a rare type of cancer that starts in the pancreas. Thankfully, my tumor was discovered early; usually, pancreatic NETs are found later when they are more difficult to treat.

Although I went to get a second opinion before starting treatment, my care team at Fox Chase had such a confident and laid-back demeanor that I decided to stick with them. We were on the same page, and their expertise made me feel more secure. The first step of my treatment was surgical resection of my mass. Everything went smoothly, and I felt confident in my path forward.

A New Stage of Treatment

I almost made it to five years with no recurrence or symptoms. During that time, my Fox Chase care team monitored me closely and kept me updated on what I should be looking out for. Unfortunately, after four years and eight months, we discovered that my cancer had returned. My care team kept an eye on it because it was slow growing, but after about two years, they made the decision that I should receive further treatment.

Although it was incredibly disheartening, my care team had a plan and mobilized quickly. My medical oncologist, Dr. Namrata (Neena) Vijayvergia, decided to start me on a relatively new and groundbreaking treatment program known as LUTATHERA. Before this treatment was developed, there were no therapies available for shrinking tumors like mine — the treatments available were only able to slow the progression of the disease. Needless to say, I felt incredibly lucky that this treatment option had been developed by the time I needed it and that I was at a medical facility that offered it!

The treatment involved eight months of on and off infusions and injections. While I experienced some side effects throughout my treatment, my care team prepared me for them in advance.

Fighting Two Diseases at Once

I was in the middle of my treatments when the COVID-19 pandemic started. Because I knew I was at high risk of complications if I got sick with COVID-19, I decided to take time off work to keep myself safe and limit my exposure to the public. Unfortunately, I contracted the disease anyway.

In winter 2020, I developed a fever and it kept climbing. I knew this was unusual because I usually run cold. After talking to my Fox Chase care team and other doctors, I knew I needed to go to the hospital. However, by that time, I felt so bad that I couldn’t drive myself. I had to be taken to Temple University Hospital – Jeanes Campus by ambulance, and I was admitted to the ICU.

COVID really did a number on me, but through the amazing care I received, I came out of the ICU within a day and was released from the hospital on the fourth day of my stay. I felt great knowing my cancer care team was in the building next door with all my medical records. Also, my Fox Chase clinicians specifically worked with my doctors in the hospital to make sure I received the best care for all my conditions. 

A Sunny Outlook

After getting out of the hospital, I had a lot of recovering to do. I had to miss one of my infusions, but I quickly started back on my treatment regimen. The effects of my treatments and injections paired with the lingering effects of COVID-19 really took me out of commission. However, I took it one day at a time, and my breathing and stamina got better day by day.

Now finished with my cancer treatment, I am excited to find out the results this May. I am a little anxious, but I know if the results are not what I want, I have other treatment options available and a great team by my side. To keep busy, I have been focusing on my YouTube channel and my podcast.

A lot of times, people don't get the healthcare they need because they get scared. If you don't address the problem, it gets worse. I tell people facing cancer to face it head on and seek treatment so that they can live as long as possible. I have been doing that for nearly a decade, and I am still going strong!

Read more about neuroendocrine tumor treatment at Fox Chase