Dr. Sara Selig’s living room is a tribute to the love of her life. Her wedding contract – a Jewish tradition – hangs in a frame over the mantle. Pictures of herself with her “beloved Gregg” rest on the table behind the couch, and were sewn into a quilt, handmade by a friend.
The love is still there, even though Gregg Stracks died 17 months ago. “Love and relationships don’t die when a person dies,” Sara says.
That’s why she keeps up her fight against the rare cancer that took his life: uveal melanoma, cancer of tissue in the eye.
Gregg’s diagnosis came seven years ago, shortly after the couple returned to the US from living in Kenya so Sara could finish her last year of medical school. After a run, Gregg noticed that the pavement looked wavy. When the same thing happened the next day, he went to an eye doctor and then a specialist. Diagnosed with uveal melanoma, he quickly had surgery.
The ophthalmologists who treated it didn’t know the oncologists who treated it, or the researchers who studied it.
Sara was hopeful their cancer story was over; Gregg feared the worst. About a year later he was told the cancer had spread to his liver. Uveal melanoma will spread in roughly half of patients, and is nearly always fatal when it does. Gregg was given less than a year to live.
Sara had started her residency at Brigham And Women’s Hospital, specializing in internal medicine and global health; Gregg started a clinical trial – an early treatment that they hoped would give them more time together.
Gregg, an organizational psychologist who helped African patients cope with the emotional side of HIV and AIDS, wrapped up that work after his diagnosis, and – still feeling good – started a consulting business, so he could spend time closer to home.
His doctor told Sara and Gregg that research into uveal melanoma was lagging other cancers. The ophthalmologists who treated it didn’t know the oncologists who treated it, or the researchers who studied it, he said. So Sara began working with the Melanoma Research Foundation to organize meetings of doctors and researchers, and form Community United for Research and Education of Ocular Melanoma (CURE OM), which she now heads.
She’s since helped raise more than $1 million, most of it for research into uveal melanoma. Diagnosed in about 1,500-2,000 American patients per year, it is mainly detected during routine eye exams when an otherwise flat mole at the back of the eye starts to thicken. Continue reading