Battling and Winning Cancer with Immunotherapy

Melanoma cancer survivor Danny Dimabuyu became cancer-free after receiving immunotherapy – an innovative form of treatment system that identifies cancer cells and allows the immune system to attack it

Press Release

Even before the doctor told him, Danny Dimabuyu already knew a killer disease was in his body.

“Nagkaroon po ako ng mukhang balat o nunal sa likod. At pinabayaan ko yun. Nung isang araw, nakikinig ako ng radyo at sinabi ng doktor, ‘kapag ang nunal na iyan nakikitang kulay violet at nangangati, at nagdugo, wag nang ipagbahala. Ipatingin na sa doctor. Maaring iyan ay isang cancer.”

(“I developed what looked like a birthmark or mole on my back. One day, I was listening to the radio, and a doctor came on air. He was saying, ‘If you have a mole that is turning purple, becomes itchy and it bleeds, get it checked. It could be cancer.”)

But that night, Dimabuyu could not sleep. He was just 56 years old—way too young to die.

The next day, Danny went to the hospital near his Pampanga residence and upon the doctor’s recommendation, he had the affected skin surgically removed and sent for biopsy. That was in November 2016.

The biopsy results came back and Dimabuyu’s fears were confirmed: it was skin cancer. Dimabuyu started radiotherapy treatments. When he completed it a few months later, Dimabuyu heaved a sigh of relief that the cancer was gone.

But he was wrong.

In March 2017, Dimabuyu noticed a cyst began growing near his armpit. It grew very, very fast. Alarmed, he decided to go to Manila this time for consultation.

The tests revealed that his skin cancer had indeed returned, and worse, it had spread to adjacent areas of his body.

Dimabuyu was devastated. His last surgery had already wiped out all his savings and put his family in debt. The salary he earned as a government employee was not much. How could he afford another round of treatments?

“We had five days before he had to undergo surgery,” Dimabuyu’s wife Evelyn said. “In those five days, from the moment we woke up until we fell asleep, our tears would not stop. We cried and cried until we couldn’t cry anymore.”

But Evelyn was not going to give up her husband. “Blindly, I told the doctors, ‘Do it. Do the surgery.’ I had no idea where the money would come from, but not treating him was not an option.”

So the surgery was scheduled. And somehow, the money they needed to pay for it came. Dimabuyu’s family found help from local government officials, the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), and the funds raised by friends and family members.

The PCSO, in particular, was very helpful, Dimabuyu said. More than half of his expenses were shouldered by the PCSO. That was a huge sum, to be sure, because skin cancer treatment did not end with surgery. Chemical treatments had to follow to kill the cancer that surgery could not remove.

When the chemical phase of his treatment was about to start, Dimabuyu asked his doctor, “Is it time for me to shave my head now?”

It is a well-known fact that chemotherapy, the nonsurgical treatment conventionally used to fight cancer, causes temporary baldness and a host of other adverse effects such as weakness, nausea, and vomiting.

To Dimabuyu’s surprise, his doctor said, “Don’t shave your head. The medicine I am giving you will not make you lose your hair.”

Soon, Dimabuyu discovered that his doctor was not giving him chemotherapy. Instead, he was receiving immunotherapy, an innovative and breakthrough form of cancer treatment, with a medicine called pembrolizumab.

“What’s the difference between chemo and immunotherapy? I honestly didn’t have an idea,” Dimabuyu admitted. “But whatever my doctor gives me, I take because I trust him.”

Dimabuyu understood one thing about immunotherapy–its effects were nothing like chemotherapy. “On the first day I received immunotherapy, I expected to come out feeling weak and nauseous. But when I came out of the hospital, I felt exactly the same as when I came in. I felt strong. It was like nothing happened.”

After four doses of pembrolizumab, Dimabuyu’s doctor confirmed that there were no more traces of cancer in Dimabuyu’s body. Nevertheless, they completed the six recommended doses, just to be sure.

Today, one year later, Dimabuyu remains cancer-free. The surgery left him with a slightly reduced range of movement in one arm, and for a time, a white patch appeared on his face. But today, the white patch is nearly gone.

“When the cancer had returned, my doctor told me, ‘Don’t worry, there is a remedy.’ That made my spirit soar. But when I heard how much the treatment cost, my spirit crashed again,” Dimabuyu recalled.

“But see. My wife and I found the help we needed. Our children, siblings, and friends all contributed. And my sister, she endured the long PCSO queues for me.”

Dimabuyu said he shared his story because he wanted to inspire others to fight for life like he did. “If you want to live, money should not be the thing that stops you. Help can be found. The important thing is, there is a treatment. We have a better chance at fighting cancer now.”