Scott Davis - Successfully Battling Melanoma With Immunotherapy

Scott Davis - Successfully Battling Melanoma With Immunotherapy

57-year-old Scott Davis grew up as an Air Force brat. His family moved around a lot, but it was during their time in Phoenix that Scott got the sunburns that would eventually catch up with him, decades later, in the form of an aggressive melanoma.

Scott first came to Marin in 1994 when he and his wife moved to Tiburon. They immediately fell in love with Marin and especially, Mt. Tamalpais. A graduate of the Brooks Institute of Photography, Scott has a life-long passion for taking pictures. He makes his living as a location scout and producer for advertising and loves photographing nature. 

In 2001, Scott’s wife thought it would be a good idea for him to get his moles checked and made a dermatology appointment for him. The two were contemplating a move to New York and she decided to take a trip to Chicago to visit family while Scott went out to New York to get the lay of the land. While the couple was apart, tragedy struck. Scott’s wife died suddenly from a congenital heart defect. 

When Scott returned, he went to the appointment his late wife had made for him – an appointment that likely saved his life. The dermatologist found a melanoma on his back. The doctor removed the growth, which did not appear to have spread, and Scott went through with the planned move to New York.

Scott lived in New York for a year, where he met his current girlfriend. In 2002, the two moved to Los Angeles. Scott was ready for a new beginning, but melanoma was not finished with him. In 2003 he was getting really bad headaches and found himself suddenly losing his peripheral vision. He started bumping into walls and couldn’t keep his signature on the line when he was signing traveler’s checks. An MRI revealed a brain tumor. 

Within days of his diagnosis, Scott had emergency brain surgery followed by CyberKnife radiosurgery 2 months later. Although the tumor was successfully destroyed, Scott’s oncologist was not enthusiastic about his prognosis. Sure enough, a year later, follow up scans revealed two more brain tumors. This time, Scott had Gamma Knife® radiosurgery to destroy the tumors. In addition, two lymph nodes under his right arm showed involvement by melanoma.

For a decade, Scott went about his life with no sign of a recurrence. In 2014, his girlfriend was hired by Levi’s in San Francisco, and the couple moved from Los Angeles to Marin. Scott was delighted to be back in Northern California and felt perfectly healthy. However, his girlfriend and his sister, who is an oncology nurse, kept nagging him to get a checkup. 

One person whose nudging made quite an impact was Scott’s long-time friend, Dr. Peter Eisenberg, a medical oncologist at Marin Cancer Care and member of MarinHealth Medical Center (formerly Marin General Hospital)’s Cancer Institute. “Peter,” Scott points out, “is the kind of guy who won’t take no for an answer.” Together, they decided Scott, who was officially “disease free” and hadn’t seen a doctor for years, should have a PET scan. That’s when Scott learned his cancer was actually back and had spread to his lungs, lymph nodes, intestines, and liver. 

There was no question in Scott’s mind as to where to get his treatment. “Staying in Marin became a kind of a no-brainer, because I needed to keep living my life. I needed to keep working. When you get a diagnosis like this, you choose a horse and you ride him. Dr. Eisenberg was the horse I chose, and I was counting on his expertise.”

Dr. Eisenberg immediately went in to high gear. He recommended immunotherapy. “There’s no other treatment that had the potential to be successful,” he explained. As Scott points out, “Peter’s been great about networking and meeting with experts.” Dr. Eisenberg started by consulting with the melanoma specialist who had treated Scott in LA. He also corresponded with the author of the groundbreaking immunotherapy study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. All agreed that immunotherapy was the right course of action. 

Like chemotherapy, immunotherapy is given orally or intravenously but the way the drugs work is very different. In the case of melanoma and certain other cancers, tumors secrete substances that mask the cancer cells, effectively “hiding” the tumor from the patient’s immune system. Immunotherapy disables the cancer’s masking abilities and allows the patient’s immune system to work as it should. 

Once he had his port put in at MarinHealth Medical Center, Scott was able to have his immunotherapy treatments at the doctor’s office with Dr. Eisenberg and his colleague, Dr. Barbara Galligan, monitoring his progress. Treatment began with two drugs, given every three weeks over a 12-week period. Then, treatment continued with one of the drugs, given every two weeks to complete a year of treatment.

Throughout his treatments, Scott felt totally supported by his doctors and by MarinHealth Medical Center. He worked with a nutritionist at the Medical Center's Integrative Wellness Center to ensure that he maintained a healthy diet. When Scott developed rheumatoid arthritis in his knee as a side effect of treatment, Dr. Eisenberg tracked down a UCSF rheumatologist who was participating in a Johns Hopkins study on the side effects of immunotherapy. But the main effect far outweighed the side effects: Scott’s most recent PET scans show no signs of the tumors! “It's mind blowing,” Scott marvels. “It's like magic.”

Nowadays, Scott sees Dr. Eisenberg every six weeks and has scans every six months. He feels great and spends a lot of time at his beloved Mount Tamalpais, taking photos. As Scott says, “It allows me to let go of even thinking about the disease and the kind of the journey that I've been on, and just puts me in the moment for being right there and appreciating what I'm seeing and where I'm at.”

This story was first published in July, 2018.