Sarasota woman fighting advanced stage of cancer

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SARASOTA - If you are looking for a way to do something good for your health in 2013 make an appointment to have a skin cancer screening. It's quick, easy and can save your life.

One Sarasota woman is fighting the cancer at an advanced stage, and this brave lady shared her melanoma story with us as we joined her at her check-up last month.

Tracy Lempe already beat cancer once. About seven years ago, her mother-in-law noticed a discolored spot on Lempe's chest and urged her to see her doctor to have it checked out. “I went to the dermatologist a couple weeks later and he called me on the phone and said you have melanoma.”

Lempe, a Sarasota resident, thought she was in the clear after having the skin cancer surgically removed at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, but five years later, the melanoma came back. This time it appeared as a lump in her right breast. “It was pretty nerve wracking, it shocked me, I didn't expect that.”

Lempe had to have a mastectomy.

Further testing and scans revealed the melanoma had also spread to Lempe's lung, classifying her cancer as stage 4. "People don't realize skin cancer is not just skin cancer. It spreads into your organs just like all other cancers."

“That's why it's so important to detect it early, if we catch it when it's thin, in the skin, and in the skin only, it can be removed and readily curable," says Dr. Ragini Kudchadkar.

Dr. Kudchadkar is Lempe's medical oncologist at Moffit. She says many patients with melanoma that has spread to other organs only live a year or less after being diagnosed. But those statistics have been improving over the last five years. “We have gotten the approval of five new agents in the treatment of melanoma and many of those have been shown to prolong survival, so people are living longer.”

Lempe is one of those people. She was put on an immunotherapy drug called Ipilimumab, which was approved by the food and drug administration in 2011. The drug, known under brand name Yervoy, has helped shrink the tumor in Lempe's lung. She got the good news at her last check up in December. “Hopefully we'll continue to see the response we've seen.”

The drug hasn't cured Lempe's cancer, but it has extended her life. “The reality is there are lots of diseases we can't cure, heart disease, diabetes, but people live with it. We want to make people live a little longer," says Dr. Ragini kudchadkar.

Lempe is truly living. She's still doing the things she loves and enjoying precious time with her husband, children and grandchildren.

She and dr. Kudchadkar agree her family support and positive attitude have been key factors in her fight against melanoma. "I can say no I'm going to beat this, I'm going to win, because that's who wins is the people who stay upbeat.”

Lempe has turned her cancer diagnosis from a death sentence to a call for action. "If I'm having to go through this, I always have to find a reason and my reason is to bring awareness to it.”

Lempe is working to educate others about the importance of early detection and prevention of melanoma, which includes wearing sunscreen, avoiding tanning beds and getting skin cancer screenings. She hopes greater awareness will bring in more research money.

Lempe and her family hope you'll join the cause by attending the miles against melanoma 5-K they are organizing. It will be held May 4th at Twin Lakes Park in Sarasota. The run benefits research at the Moffitt Cutaneous Clinic.