BOLINGBROOK – “I might have to take out your right eye.”
Rolando Banda of Bolingbrook couldn’t believe the surgeon’s words.
It was bad enough for this 55-year-old father of six children to learn he had mucosal melanoma, but to lose an eye?
How would he continue working as a contract aerial photographer?
It was a high adrenaline moment, Banda said.
“So I got over that and said, ‘OK, let’s get this thing done,’ ” he said.
Mucosal melanoma is a rare form of aggressive melanoma, with most cases appearing in the head and neck and with outcomes similar to cutaneous melanoma, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The low number of reported cases translates into no patient treatment trials and an overall lack of strategies for treatment. Fearing the side effects outweighed any healing value, Banda said he refused radiation treatment. When chemotherapy failed him, Banda turned to alternatives.
He and his wife, Carolyn Banda, recently returned from three weeks in Mexico, where Banda received virotherapy treatments – Rigvir and PNC-27. The cost for these treatments is $44,000, not including travel back and forth to Mexico for follow-up care, according to the family’s GoFundMe page.
A fundraiser was held Feb. 27 at Tailgaters Sports Bar & Grill in Bolingbrook when Rolando and Carolyn were in Mexico. In attendance were the Bandas’ six children: Jesse Stanford, 25; Hannah Stanford, 22; Rachel Banda, 15; Rolando Banda III, 13; David Banda, 11; and Arrow Banda, 6.
Carolyn said the cost of Rolando’s medication is projected to be about $750 to $2,000 a month. Their health insurance doesn’t cover the cost of the experimental treatments and medicines he will need over the next three years, Carolyn said
“We’re trying to raise money for the long haul,” she said.
An unseen enemy,
an unfaltering spirit
Rolando’s troubles began in 2012 with difficulty breathing. A visit to an ear, nose and throat doctor determined he had nasal polyps, he said. These appeared to spontaneously vanish before Rolando had surgery, he added.
So when the symptoms returned the following year, he said he didn’t worry. But the “polyps” kept growing until Rolando said his face was bulging. By now, the tumor was pressing against the nerves in his sinus cavity and had displaced his septum, he added.
“I was in so much pain, I could not walk,” Rolando said.
After his diagnosis, he underwent two surgeries to remove the tumor. Rolando’s surgeon prematurely halted the first because of bleeding, Rolando said. After he healed from the first surgery, he had surgery No. 2, he added.
Rolando didn’t lose his right eye; it continues to function normally. But the tumor had eaten through the floor of his eye orbit, he said. This meant, once the melanoma was removed, nothing was holding up his right eye, he added.
“They made a fly decision in the middle of surgery to put in packing material in the hopes it would create scar tissue and hold his eye in place,” Carolyn said. “The surgeon said he never had to do this before, so we give him kudos for coming up with it.”
In 2014, cancer was detected in lymph nodes in Rolando’s neck and chest, so he had surgery to remove seven of those nodes. Rolando had immunotherapy that year and then again in 2015. He even had Keytruda – the generic is pembrolizumab – the drug former President Jimmy Carter received.
The tumors kept growing.
“We were told in December , ‘We don’t know what to give you at this point,’ ” Carolyn said. “We can either go for good old-fashioned chemotherapy and radiation, which they told him in the beginning is not effective for melanoma, so why go back to that option, or there were a couple of trial therapies he could have tried.”
The Bandas were in Mexico from Feb. 19 to March 11. So far, they are encouraged by the new treatment. Banda said the tumors appear smaller, but he’s tired and said he has only enough energy to work. Carolyn said she doesn’t think far into the future; she lives each day as it comes.
They still have hope.
“We’ve done better than some might have expected initially,” Rolando said. “We could, potentially, lose the battle very quickly with this kind of disease, but so far, we’re still in the fight and we’ll keep fighting.”
HOW TO HELP
To donate toward Rolando Banda’s fight, visit www.gofundme.com/fightwithrolando