October 16, 2014

Indiana couple hits the links to support melanoma research

A Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) melanoma patient is using his passion for golf to support melanoma research efforts at VICC.

A Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) melanoma patient is using his passion for golf to support melanoma research efforts at VICC.

This summer, Gerald (Jerry) Schreiber, 78, with the help of his wife, Phyllis, organized and hosted the first annual Melanoma Research Golf Classic in Evansville, Indiana.

Igor Puzanov, M.D., talks with patient Gerald (Jerry) Schreiber and his wife, Phyllis, at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. The Schreibers recently organized a golf tournament in Indiana to benefit melanoma research. (photo by Susan Urmy)

The golf scramble held July 28 at the Evansville Country Club attracted 72 players and raised $19,000 for VICC melanoma research spearheaded by Igor Puzanov, M.D., MSCI, associate professor of Medicine and director of Melanoma Clinical Research.

Schreiber describes himself as a lifelong golfer who has won the Evansville city golf tournament nine times. But all of that sun exposure also had a downside.

In 2003, he noticed a spot on his eyelid and a biopsy revealed melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. His physician referred him to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, where he was successfully treated.

But when the melanoma recently returned, this time with tumors in his lungs and liver, he was referred to VICC and enrolled in a clinical trial of a new therapy for patients with advanced melanoma.

The experimental immunotherapy is an antibody that targets PD1 proteins on immune cells to allow the immune system to recognize and attack the cancer. The new drug, pembrolizumab, was recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Since beginning the treatment, Schreiber’s tumors have been shrinking.

“They’ve reduced in size by 50 percent with this particular drug. It might be the reason I’m still here.”

The need for better therapies sparked the couple’s decision to raise funds for research.

“You’re always hearing about all of the other diseases except melanoma,” explained Phyllis.
And Jerry decided golf was the perfect vehicle for fundraising in southern Indiana because “…everybody knows me through golf.”

Puzanov said support like this is important for the research effort.

“We have a very successful melanoma research program here at Vanderbilt and we are working closely with pharmaceutical firms and other academic research centers to bring the most promising therapies to our patients,” Puzanov said.

“We are very appreciative of the efforts of all those who are helping us improve the lives of patients.”