SANTA MONICA, Calif. (KABC) -- Here in Southern California, people are very familiar with the health risks that can come from too much exposure to the sun.
One young woman is now sharing her story about a devastating diagnosis with the deadliest form of skin cancer. Because she was pregnant, the disease spread. She feared it would threaten health of her unborn baby.
During her pregnancy, 26-year-old Shelby Nish noticed strange purplish bumps throughout her body.
"When I was about nine months is when they started popping up like in my arm and in my tummy. I thought they were bruises," Nish said.
None of her doctors in San Diego suspected skin cancer, but a scan at Providence Saint John's Health Center revealed she had stage 4 melanoma.
Dr. Steven O'Day, Director of Immuno-Oncology said, "Her melanoma looked like buckshot. It was literally -- her organs had a buckshot appearance of thousands of tumors that involved her brain, her lung, her liver, her bone."
Right before birth, Nish's immune system was depressed. Her body was having a tough time fighting the cancer. But even through that, it still managed to protect her unborn baby.
"The placenta protected the child from the melanoma and he has not developed melanoma. And he is healthy," said O'Day.
The young mom faced an uphill battle. With her newborn in her arms, Nish knew she had to fight.
"I was going to raise my son. I was going to show him all the things that I had to teach him," said Nish.
O'Day knew Shelby's best option would be a cocktail of immunotherapy drugs designed to boost her immune system and fight off the tumors.
"It literally happened before our eyes as we watched the tumors melt away," he said.
Dr. O'Day predicts a day when most cancers will be treated this way. "The immune system is here for the taking. We understand how it works," said O'Day.
A year and a half later, Nish remains cancer-free. She and her family started a charity to raise money for melanoma research. Her message to other patients is to have courage and hope.
"I just want people to know that melanoma isn't a death sentence anymore," Nish said.
SoCal mom with stage 4 melanoma delivers healthy baby
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