Staging a Return to Health

March 15, 2019

Jersey City actor returns to work after beating melanoma.

For decades, Charlie McCarty had a small mole on his chest that he didn’t think much about. But he noticed the mole starting to grow. In fact, it was changing so quickly that he began documenting its size by taking photos of it next to a quarter. Within days, the mole began bleeding. Alarmed, Charlie went to the Emergency Department at Hackensack University Medical Center. Staff biopsied the mole: It was melanoma. “I had always been in good health. This came out of nowhere and happened so fast,” recalls Charlie, a professional actor. “From the day I first noticed any change to the day I went for help, it was only about two weeks.”

RAPID, COORDINATED CARE

At the Emergency Department, emergency medicine physician David Negron, M.D., called on the expertise of Marson Davidson, M.D., a surgical oncologist at Hackensack. Dr. Davidson examined Charlie and decided to remove the cancerous tumor immediately.

“It was critical that I coordinated care quickly for Charlie due to the aggressiveness of the tumor and the fact that it was bleeding. If we waited any longer, the melanoma could have spread or grown to a size that couldn’t be surgically removed,” explains Dr. Davidson. Dr. Davidson coordinated the surgery team and had Charlie in the operating room just hours later. Dr. Davidson successfully removed the large tumor as well as surrounding tissue in Charlie’s chest wall to ensure all traces of the cancer were gone. He also removed a few lymph nodes under the arm, which later tested positive for cancer.

“Charlie was diagnosed with aggressive stage 3 melanoma. Due to the type and size of the tumor, we knew there was a high risk of recurrence,” says Dr. Davidson.

Because so much tissue had been removed from Charlie’s chest, Dr. Davidson called on plastic surgeon Luis Zapiach, M.D., to close the wound. During the complex surgery, Dr. Zapiach performed a skin graft, using tissue from Charlie’s thigh, to reconstruct his chest.

WORLDWIDE EXPERTISE

Dr. Davidson then coordinated with Andrew Pecora, M.D., a hematologist/oncologist and chief innovation officer at Hackensack Meridian Health, who is internationally recognized for his research and development in immunology and targeted therapies for cancer treatment.

Dr. Pecora first enrolled Charlie in a clinical trial at John Theurer Cancer Center, part of Hackensack University Medical Center, involving a promising immunotherapy treatment. However, Charlie’s aggressive cancer didn’t respond to the particular medication, and another large tumor had grown in his chest within weeks.

Dr. Pecora treated the new tumor with a different combination of immunotherapy and targeted therapies, as it was too big to surgically remove.

“Cancer treatment is highly individualized,” explains Dr. Pecora. “I have a fundamental understanding of how these drugs work and put together his treatment protocol based on knowledge about the medications and the biology of his disease.”

The new treatment showed immediate success. Within one week, Charlie’s tumor began to shrink. Dr. Pecora continued to work closely with Charlie, adjusting his medications as necessary. And in just three months, all evidence of the cancer was gone.

AN INSPIRING NEXT ACT

Since Charlie completed treatment almost two years ago, he has continued to take medication, follows up with Dr. Pecora for imaging tests every six months, and has blood tests every few weeks. His test results have shown no signs of cancer. “I am blessed beyond belief,” says Charlie, who recently completed a live stage performance in Washington, D.C. “I am so thankful to have had an incredible, dedicated, talented and benevolent group of doctors. They are truly a godsend.”

YOUR CANCER CARE
For resources and support surrounding your cancer care, including an overview of our medical team, current research and clinical trials, risk assessments and support groups, visit HackensackUMC.org/Cancer.