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Healthy You

Galloping Beyond Cancer

Monday, February 17, 2020 12:00 PM

Aislinn Bujewski assumed the small lump on her thigh was a harmless cyst and barely gave it a second thought. But when she had it removed four years ago, this healthy, active 46-year-old horse trainer, runner and mother of three was left in total shock. The pathology results revealed that it was actually metastatic melanoma.

“It was one of those surreal moments when it felt like time stopped,” said Bujewski of Lake Zurich.

Aislinn Bujewski on her horse

"If I hadn’t come to NorthShore for treatment, I’m not sure I’d still be here and able to watch my kids grow up," noted Aislinn Bujewski, who has roared back from cancer to compete in three marathons and counting.

Advanced Treatment Option
With time being of the essence, a good friend connected her to NorthShore Oncologist and Kellogg-Scanlon Chair of Oncology Bruce Brockstein, MD, who has extensive expertise treating complex melanoma. The threat became even more concerning when a PET scan revealed cancer had already spread to Bujewski’s liver and lymph nodes.

“I told Dr. Brockstein, ‘Just come up with a game plan.’ I’m very stubborn and I refused to let this win,” recalled Bujewski.

Dr. Brockstein quickly put Bujewski on an advanced immunotherapy treatment— nivolumab—with infusions every other week for 18 months.

“The timing of this was kind of a miracle,” noted Dr. Brockstein. “Five years ago, before we had this immunotherapy, Aislinn would have likely only survived a matter of months.”

“As scared as I was after the initial diagnosis, within five minutes of meeting Dr. Brockstein I thought, ‘This is going to be OK,’” said Bujewski. “He was going to be in charge of it, and I felt very calm. Also, the entire team at Kellogg Cancer Center was great. As much as I dreaded the process, everyone from the nurses and techs to the receptionists all made it so much easier.”

Surgical Intervention
After immunotherapy treatment, signs of cancer disappeared from Bujewski’s lymph nodes but the large tumor on her liver remained unchanged in size. Following a multidisciplinary consultation, the care team determined Bujewski should have the cancer surgically removed by Mark Talamonti, MD, Stanton and Margaret Rogers Palmer Chair of Surgery.

In the procedure, Dr. Talamonti removed the entire right lobe of her liver in advanced, minimally-invasive surgery. Both physicians hold academic appointments at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.

“This was a remarkable collaboration,” explained Dr. Talamonti. “We told Aislinn we were working with evolving technology, and she had the confidence to go forward. Fortunately, she was in such great shape with no evidence of cancer on the healthy section of her liver, so she met the highly selective criteria for this pioneering approach.”

Bujewski is now cancer-free and her prognosis is very good, according to Dr. Brockstein.

“I’ve been very lucky. I never stopped working, and I never stopped working out. I was grateful to keep up my running regimen,” said Bujewski, who completed her first marathon in 2018 and two more in 2019.

“This kind of treatment obviously changes your life, but it taught me a lot. It made me realize you’re as strong as you need to be,” she added. “If I hadn’t come to NorthShore for treatment, I’m not sure I’d still be here and able to watch my kids grow up.”