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When doctors told Fleet Neighbors he likely had only six months to live, he was determined to prove their dire prognosis wrong. So, a confident Neighbors and his wife went ahead and booked a dream cruise ship excursion set to sail six months later.
“I thought they were crazy. After the wild life I’ve lived, I wasn’t going to let cancer take me out,” recalled Neighbors of Elmhurst. He also is known far and wide for taking on the role of Santa Claus each December, including a long-running Santa stint on a Chicago Transit Authority “L” train.
Missed Warning Sign Neighbors, 51, initially ignored what he thought was a small, harmless pimple on the top of his head. It turned out to be an aggressive form of melanoma that spread to his lungs. Seeking a second opinion, he and his wife turned to NorthShore Kellogg Cancer Center and immediately gained confidence from a team of experts dedicated to saving his life.
Neighbors’ treatment began with minimally invasive surgery, removing a small portion from one lung where the cancer had spread. Medical Oncologist Bruce Brockstein, MD, then enrolled him in a national clinical trial where he received two immunotherapy agents designed to boost the body's natural defenses to fight the cancer.
Leading-Edge Therapies “Checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy is a major advance in treating melanoma as it helps the body recognize and attack cancer cells,” explained Dr. Brockstein, the Kellogg-Scanlon Chair of Oncology who holds an academic appointment at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. “Longer-term follow up studies show actual cure rates of about 40 percent for patients like Fleet.”
These innovative biological drugs are increasingly being used to fight other cancers as well, prompting Dr. Brockstein and his colleagues to raise awareness of the value of immunotherapy.
Dramatic Results Neighbors’ lung nodules disappeared and now, two-and-a-half years after that fatal prognosis, he is in complete remission. The couple’s planned cruise went on as scheduled and they continue to enjoy a full, active life.
Neighbors goes to Kellogg Cancer Center every three weeks for ongoing immunotherapy treatment and said his caregivers have become like family. “Everyone at NorthShore has been wonderful,” noted his wife Margie. “They make you feel so comfortable and you know they care. It’s a personal touch we didn’t receive anywhere else.”
An active athlete and professional Santa for decades, Neighbors shares both his positive attitude and his new dedication to using sunscreen with everyone he meets.
“My husband is from the ‘Peter Pan’ bloodline. He’s never going to grow up and really believes in magic and miracles,” Margie Neighbors added.