Nancy Finn: Returning to a Life of Service After Stage IV Melanoma

“It’s why I’ve referred several friends to Fox Chase: You can’t get this type of unified treatment anywhere else.”
‐Nancy Finn

I’m 64 years old and live in Yardley, Pennsylvania, which is just north of Philadelphia. I’m retired now, but I spent many years doing social justice work and fundraising for nonprofits. It was a busy life, which is why, when I developed a lesion on my left shin, I didn’t pay attention to it. Then, literally overnight in 2015, it got really bad. I wound up in the hospital, where they diagnosed me with stage IV melanoma—skin cancer.

A Lifesaving Treatment

After discussing my diagnosis with my siblings, I decided to go to Fox Chase Cancer Center to seek treatment. My mom had been treated at Fox Chase for non-Hodgkin lymphoma a number of years earlier and she had a tremendous experience.

The medical oncologist I met with was very clear about the direness of my situation—stage IV meant the cancer was in my lungs, liver, everywhere. I was scared, because I had watched my husband die of liver cancer five years before.

It was a very rapid decline, and the traditional chemotherapy he received made him even more sick. I didn’t want to die, but I told the oncologist that unless she could offer me hope that there would be something better at the end of treatment, I didn’t want to go through it.

Fortunately, she did offer me hope. She told me that while many of the treatments they’d typically recommend for melanoma weren’t on the table, there was a good option for me: immunotherapy.

The type of immunotherapy I received was Keytruda, which had only been approved by the Food and Drug Administration the year before. It’s an antibody treatment that you receive by injection, and it essentially supercharges your immune system to fight off the cancer.

I started immunotherapy in November, and my condition was already improved by Christmas. I continued with immunotherapy treatment for a little over a year, and by January 2017 the cancer was nearly gone. I had surgery on a few remaining spots, and when they were analyzed, it turned out that those cells weren’t even active, but just dead cancer cells that had accumulated.

Seamless Care and Collaboration

Throughout treatment, and even when I go back now for follow-ups, all of my doctors have been incredible. In the past two years with COVID-19, I’ve heard so many people complain that they think their doctors don’t want to see them. I’ve never had that experience at Fox Chase. Just this past January, Dr. Jeffrey Farma, my surgical oncologist, gave me his cellphone number and told me to call him anytime if I needed anything. You usually don’t hear that from doctors.

What especially stands out about Fox Chase is that the doctors clearly know each other, they know each other’s patients, and they work as a team. You don’t have to constantly carry your scans between doctors and explain things over and over.

You know the doctors are conferring with one another, and you feel comfortable that if they’re prescribing medication or making a decision about a particular surgery, they’re talking about it together.

Dr. Farma has been my doctor since 2015, but every doctor who has picked up my case—including my current medical oncologist, Dr. Anthony Olszanski—has been equally attentive and fully informed. Drs. Farma and Olszanksi are co-directors of the Melanoma and Skin Cancer Program at Fox Chase. It seems like all the doctors know my story and my full medical history as soon as I sit down with them. It’s amazing, and it’s why I’ve referred several friends to Fox Chase. You can’t get this type of unified treatment anywhere else.

Giving Back

I just hit five years of being cancer-free, which means the chances of new cancer growth are slim. I’m back to living an active, independent life. I am on the board of trustees at a rehab hospital, nursing home, and assisted-living center, where I also volunteer in the gift shop. I teach religion to second-grade students at my church.

I’m even part of the Fox Chase patient-to-patient network, which means that if someone who is diagnosed with melanoma or is thinking about immunotherapy wants to talk to a patient who has been through it, they can contact me. I’ve also been accepted to the Fox Chase Patient and Family Advisory Council as one of a dozen or so advisors who serve as a voice for patients receiving treatment and their family members.

It’s important to me to give back, because Fox Chase has given me years of life I might not have otherwise had.

Learn more about treatment for melanoma at Fox Chase Cancer Center.