Now, doctors are testing a vaccine that uses the body's immune system to hunt down cancer cells and extend lives.
From nursery rhymes, to board games, fun doubles as learning in the Hardtke household.
When skin cancer attacked Dan's face and forced him to have his ear removed, this dad turned it into another lesson. "Daddy had his ear cut off because he had bad skin," Dan Hardtke explained. "Daddy had surgery because he had bad skin and got too much sun."
Despite radiation, the cancer came back four times.
"Do I want to sit around and think about the possibility of dying, or am I going to go get my job done play with my girls," Hardtke told Ivanhoe. "There's too much to do."
Hardtke enrolled in a clinical trial testing a vaccine for advanced melanoma. It's made up of a virus that does double duty: it kills the lesions that you can see and feel but also tells the immune system to hunt down and kill cancer cells that may be hiding.
"So even when we were injecting something into the skin, melanomas in the lungs and liver also seemed to go away," Howard Kaufman, MD, FACS surgical oncologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Ill., said.
In phase two of the trial, 30 percent of patients saw their tumors significantly shrink or disappear. The majority have been alive without their tumors coming back for four years.
"Which is really quite remarkable for patients who had a six-month life expectancy," Dr. Kaufman explained. Hardtke has always been a realist, but for the first time, he's also an optimist.
"I just don't think this is the end for me," Hardtke said.
A dad, who has three precious reasons to fight for his life.
Patients get a shot every two weeks. Side effects include fever and chills. Doctors are still enrolling melanoma patients in the trial. For more information call (888)-990-3399.
If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Melissa Medalie at firstname.lastname@example.org