November 9, 2023

Bonnie fights melanoma with a positive attitude and humor

A woman and her cancer doctor standing in a hallway
Bonnie Le Blanc and Dr. Vincent Ma

Bonnie Le Blanc’s faith has been a source of comfort and strength as she has endured life’s hardships, including two cancer diagnoses in the past eight years.

“I know He’s not going to give me anything I can’t handle,” she said.

Le Blanc was curatively treated for breast cancer and now is committed to fighting her stage IV melanoma with a fighting spirit, a positive mindset and a sense of humor. She makes sure to wear a funny T-shirt about her cancer battle every time she sees Dr. Vincent Ma, a physician-scientist at the UW Health | Carbone Cancer Center, for her clinical trial treatment.

“They always make me laugh when I see her in clinic,” Ma said of her T-shirt collection. “What I really admire about Bonnie is that she always maintains a good level of optimism and hopefulness.”

Le Blanc, 73, of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in 2015 during a routine mammogram. A CT scan to see if the cancer had spread to other areas of her body also uncovered a small brain aneurysm. Le Blanc had previously been treated for a brain aneurysm in 1976, and she suddenly found herself being grateful for her cancer diagnosis.

“Without breast cancer, my other aneurysm may not have been found until it was too late,” she said.

After surgery to remove her tumor, as well as chemotherapy and radiation, Le Blanc’s breast cancer was cured. She then was successfully treated for her aneurysm.

A few years later, Le Blanc noticed what she thought was a wart on her finger. She went to see her doctor in 2021 when her finger pain made driving difficult, and a dermatologist diagnosed her with stage IV melanoma. After having her finger amputated, Le Blanc went through unsuccessful rounds of immunotherapy. Her physician suggested looking at clinical trials, which led her to the Carbone Cancer Center and Ma, who specializes in melanoma care.

“I loved Dr. Ma right away from the get-go, and I was willing to try whatever he had available for me,” she said.

Le Blanc’s cancer continued to progress during the first clinical trial treatment, but since July she has been enrolled in a new trial for a combination immunotherapy that has caused shrinkage in her tumors. This treatment is given by infusion every three weeks.

“I’m absolutely thrilled,” Le Blanc said. “I wish I could do a cartwheel.”

Stage IV melanoma is not currently curative, but Ma is among the researchers working to develop new treatment options. Currently, the standard of care for stage IV melanoma is immunotherapy or targeted therapy that “targets” specific mutations in a patient’s cancer cells.

Le Blanc had no hesitation about seeking clinical trials because she was determined to keep fighting and pursue all options that could give her hope and let her spend more time with her family.

“What was I going to do? Just sit there and do nothing? That’s not me,” she said.

She also knows that clinical trials are how new life-saving treatments are approved for use among all patients, recalling how breast cancer had been considered a “death sentence” in years past, but she was able to have curative treatment because of research advances.

Le Blanc feels fortunate to have a strong support network of her family and friends, especially her supportive and attentive husband. She focuses on living her life with as much passion, joy and humor as ever, both for herself and her loved ones.

“In my case, I have incurable melanoma. I know what incurable means but will not dwell on it and will not let it depress me. I will fight,” Le Blanc said. “I will use whatever and the knowledge of whomever I can to fight it. If it is true and I have a limited time on Earth, I do not want to spend whatever time I have left sad. I do not want my family and friends to be sad when they are around me. I want us to enjoy our time together as we always have.”

Her advice to patients facing their own cancer battle is to be willing to accept help, maintain good nutrition, keep a positive mindset and find a doctor who you trust and feel comfortable discussing everything with, especially side effects.

“I want to share my story because I want to help somebody else,” she said. “If I can help somebody else stay optimistic, hopeful and fight to overcome cancer, I’ll be happy, even if I don’t know who they are.”