Greg Nail

Living With Skin Cancer

For Greg Nail, there are two keys to living with cancer: knowledge and vigilance.

As a sun lover of Italian descent, Nail wasn’t thinking about skin cancer when he spent time outdoors. But in 1999, after he was diagnosed with melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, Nail became committed to sharing what he had learned. A recurrence of his cancer in 2002 only reinforced his desire to be proactive.

The Kansas City, Mo., resident encourages people, especially parents of young children, to be “sun smart.” He also advises people with cancer to learn all they can about their disease in order to take charge of their situations.

“A lot of cancer patients would drive a long way to come here because of the way the people make you feel”

Greg Nail (right) and Linda Wilkinson, his girlfriend, created a fund to support melanoma research.

-Greg Nail

“I want people diagnosed with melanoma to know there are survivors, to know they can talk with others,” said Nail, age 42. “I want people to know that laughter is very important.”

To help people make informed decisions, Nail has shared his own story on the American Cancer Society’s Web site and talked with people around the country as they work through their fear and hope after a diagnosis of cancer.

Nail’s own journey with melanoma began with a mole on his right arm that had changed in appearance.  During a check-up at the hospital for his epilepsy, his neurologist, Arthur Dick, MD, urged Nail to have the mole checked. Nail credits Dr. Dick’s urgency with saving his life.

He then came under the care of three physicians he identifies for his readers this way: “The wonderful oncologist I speak of is Stephen Williamson, MD, my fantastic surgeon is William Jewell, MD, and my excellent dermatologist is Thelda Kestenbaum, MD.”

Dr. Jewell removed Nail’s mole and delivered the bad news: The melanoma had spread to his sentinel lymph nodes (the nodes closest to the cancer site).

After surgery to remove the nodes, Nail had a decision to make in consultation with Dr. Williamson. He was no longer eligible for a stage III clinical trial of a vaccine because spots found in his chest during the staging process couldn’t rule out his cancer as stage IV. But he didn’t want to take interferon, the recommended treatment, because of the side effects it could have for him.

“I didn’t want to be so sick, plus I was worried about interactions with my epilepsy medication and potential damage to my liver,” Nail recalled.

So his medical team agreed Nail could take a “wait, monitor and see” approach.  This vigilance has been effective. Nail’s cancer has not recurred, and as a stage III melanoma survivor, he appreciates the personalized care he has received in the process.

“Drs. Jewell and Williamson both say they treat the patient, not the disease,” said Nail. “And the Cancer Center staff has shown me tremendous love, friendship and support.”

“A lot of cancer patients would drive a long way to come here because of the way the people make you feel,” Nail continued. “It can be scary to find yourself sitting in the lobby of a cancer center, but the love and caring that pour out from the people who work here is incredible.”