Richard Millham

Skin Cancer Patient Stories

Merkel Cell Carcinoma
Richard Millham

When he started running in 1989 at the age 55, Dick Millham thought he was taking strides towards a healthier lifestyle. And while he was indeed doing his heart and body good, the fact that he ran in the heat of summer without the benefit of hat, shirt or sunscreen eventually caught up with him. “I always thought that my olive skin meant I wouldn’t have a problem with the sun or skin cancer,” said Dick.

In October 2011, when he was 77, Dick noticed a little white pimple on his cheek near his nose. He didn’t think much of it, but the next time he visited his regular doctor, Dick asked him to take a look at it. His doctor thought it may be a squamous cell carcinoma and suggested that Dick see a dermatologist, which he did the following Monday.

Three weeks later, the phone rang in Dick's office. The dermatologist informed him that he had Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare and highly aggressive skin cancer. “He told me I’d need treatment and a plastic surgeon.”  A longstanding board member of the Bucks County Economic Development Corporation, Dick immediately thought of Fox Chase Cancer Center, which has a satellite facility in Buckingham, Bucks County close to his home.

The following day, Dick had an appointment with Clifford S. Perlis, MD, MBE, Director, Mohs Micrographic Surgery and Dermatological Surgery at Fox Chase.

"At Fox Chase, I had a team on my side."

"Dr. Perlis wanted to verify the diagnosis. He got right on the phone with Dr. Lango and Dr. Galloway, which is when I realized that at Fox Chase, I had a team on my side," said Dick. While some dermatologists believe they can offer successful surgical treatment for Merkel cell carcinoma, Dr. Perlis realized that Dick's case was more aggressive and referred him to Miriam N. Lango, MD, a head and neck surgeon at Fox Chase. Through carefully conducted studies, Fox Chase Cancer Center oncologists determined that the control of this rare cancer was dramatically enhanced by the addition of some radiation after surgery, so Dr. Perlis recruited Thomas J. Galloway MD, a radiation oncologist, to the team. There are approximately 1,800 reported cases of Merkel cell carcinoma in the United States, which makes this cancer especially rare. “I guess I’m really special,” shared Dick.

After several more tests, Dick was scheduled for surgery the following week. Dr. Lango removed the carcinoma, along with surrounding sentinel lymph nodes. The good news was that the lymph nodes tested negative, however Dick would still require radiation therapy. Dr. Galloway explained that he would benefit from daily targeted radiation for five weeks.

“Dr. Galloway also impressed upon me that this was a life or death situation,” admitted Dick, who later learned that the area to be radiated wasn’t a single spot, but a section of his face from under the eye, over to his ear down to his neck, and back up past the right corner of his mouth up to the nose. “I knew people who had been treated for prostate cancer with radiation. They went in, got buzzed and that was that.”

Dick has a strong will and got through the treatment, managing the side effects successfully. Although the right side of his face remains red, he’s slowly gaining weight back. Dick has resumed his active lifestyle, running, hiking and walking – now with full sun protection. “After what happened to me, so many of my friends and colleagues have gone to the dermatologist to be checked.  My cancer is rare – but it does happen.”

"The team at Fox Chase saved my life." 

"The team at Fox Chase saved my life," said Dick. “Dr. Lango did such a beautiful job that I didn’t even need plastic surgery.  There are 17 places in America that have experience treating Merkel cell carcinoma team and Fox Chase is one of them. The level of expert care I received is unparalleled.”