Karley, Melanoma Survivor

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“It can happen to anyone”

In August 2012, 16-year-old Karley Kenney of Vinton was making plans for her junior year at Vinton-Shellsburg High School. They included doing well in school, lettering in cross country and track, competing in horse shows and participating in 4-H.

Fighting cancer wasn’t on the list.

Then Kenney learned a mole on her back was melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer. Instead of going to her first day of class, Kenney found herself meeting with John Vander Zee, MD, at the Nassif Community Cancer Center.

“Melanoma is the fifth most common cancer being treated in the Cedar Rapids area,” says Dr. Vander Zee, a plastic surgeon and skin cancer specialist. “That’s why we established Melanoma & Advanced Skin Cancer Care at the Community Cancer Center. Patients have one convenient, centralized place to go where services come to them.”

Initially, Kenney was told her cancer was likely stage four, meaning it had spread to other parts of her body. She admits it was a scary time, but says her doctors and nurses did everything they could to keep her spirits up.

Fortunately for Kenney, the melanoma had not spread. She underwent surgery that included a nine-inch incision on her back and the removal of 18 lymph nodes. Because extensive PET, CT and MRI scans showed no additional cancer, Kenney did not need chemotherapy or radiation.

“I see my dermatologist, Dr. John Wollner, twice a year,” says Kenney. “They take full body pictures to monitor for any changes. But I hope I never have to go through this again!” Like Karley Kenney, James Ray had plans of his own. In 2013, the retired computer specialist was enjoying time with his family, fishing and generally taking life easy. At 72, he was in good health, too. In fact, aside from having his tonsils out at 15, Ray had never been in a hospital.

Then he learned a spot on his back was melanoma.

“My primary care doctor did the initial biopsy and told me it was malignant. He referred me to Dr. Vander Zee, who found a second malignant spot.” A follow-up body scan also turned up a cancerous mass in Ray’s chest.

“The first thought was the melanoma had already spread. But Dr. Vander Zee, a melanoma expert, said the mass did not look right to him, so he insisted on a biopsy,” says Ray. “It turned out to be non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.” Because the lymphoma was unrelated to the melanoma and also very slow-growing, Ray’s care team recommended leaving it alone. Dr. Vander Zee removed the melanomas from Ray’s back, followed by one year of chemotherapy.

Ray was impressed with the way his doctors dealt with the lymphoma, working as a team to make the diagnosis. He says, “they were always of one voice as to how to proceed with my treatment.” Later Ray was referred to the Wound and Hyperbaric Center at UnityPoint Health St. Luke’s Hospital, where wound specialist Dustin Arnold, MD, collaborated with Dr. Vander Zee on the healing process for Ray’s surgical wounds.

Ray likes the fact all the services he needs are right here in Cedar Rapids. “I doubt many cities in Iowa have the facilities and expertise we have here.” He adds everyone on his care team has been extremely supportive and encouraging, not just to Ray but to his wife, Shirley. Simply put, says Ray, “they felt like family through the entire process.”

Still, Ray admits this wasn’t how he intended to spend his retirement. Once his treatment is complete, he looks forward to getting back to the things he enjoys, whether it’s a fishing trip or a visit to his daughter in Texas.

Meanwhile, Kenney is living her life to the fullest. One year after her cancer diagnosis, Kenney was crowned Homecoming Queen at Vinton Shellsburg High and her cross country team qualified for state. Today she is an animal science major at Iowa State University. She continues to show horses and was named the 2014 Benton County Fair Queen. “I never used a tanning bed so I never thought about skin cancer,” says Kenney. “Now I know it can happen to anyone, because it happened to me.”

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