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Fighting cancer
Cutting-edge drug combination helps Mapleton man fight melanoma

SIOUX CITY | A Mapleton, Iowa, man says a cutting-edge combination of drugs that uses the body's immune system to fight cancer has given him a second chance at life.

Six years ago, a large mole on the left side of Charles Dean's head was diagnosed as melanoma, a type of skin cancer that is likely to grow and spread to other parts of the body if not treated early on. At the time, doctors removed neck muscle and lymph nodes from Dean's body.

An estimated 87,110 new cases of invasive melanoma will be diagnosed in the United States in 2017, according to the American Cancer Society, which also estimates that one person dies of melanoma every 54 minutes.

Four years ago, when the melanoma spread to Dean's back, he said doctors removed a "chunk" from the bottom of his right lung.

Two years ago, Dean was hospitalized at Burgess Health Center in Onawa, Iowa, with bronchitis. He couldn't breathe without oxygen.

"They worked on me for a few days. The doctor said they couldn't do anything more for me there. He actually said to me he thought I might make it another six weeks," Dean recalled. "I'd already told the good Lord, 'If you want me, I'm ready.'"

Dean turned to Dr. Donald Wender, an oncologist at June E. Nylen Cancer Center in Sioux City. At the time, Dean's lung had completely collapsed and he was very short of breath.

"I told him there was a combination of immunotherapy that can be pretty tough, but I thought it had the highest response rate and the longest duration of response that was available," Wender said of the drugs Opdivo and Yervoy, which active the immune system to attack cancer cells.

After Dean received Opdivo and Yervoy intravenously through a port every three weeks for four times, Wender said X-rays revealed his lung was open. Opdivo, which Dean continued, is also being used to treat kidney, non-small cell lung and bladder cancers.

"He'd hold his breath every month when we'd do an X-ray to see what happened," Wender said of Dean, who experienced no side effects from the drugs. "It took him a while, but he kept on getting stronger and stronger."

Today, Dean no longer needs supplemental oxygen. He's able to mow his own lawn, snow blow his driveway and play a round of golf. 

"Ever since that Opdivo was put into my system, I have been great," Dean said. "I feel like I've had a second chance on life again."

While Wender can't say that Dean is cured of metastatic melanoma of the lung, he said Dean's progress shows that it's worth being aggressive when it comes to cancer treatment.

"I know that there are probably a lot of guys out there that probably would not have used a combination on him because they thought he was in too bad of shape. I wanted to give him what was the best chance and the best outcome," he said.

No. 10 story of 2017: Litigation over Promenade complex winds down

Editor's note: The Journal today begins the countdown of the Top 10 Stories of 2017 in Siouxland, as chosen by Journal editors. The No. 1 story will be revealed on Dec. 30, and the Journal's annual Newsmaker of the Year will be named on Dec. 31.

SIOUX CITY | For seven years, development inside the Sioux City building that houses the Promenade Cinema 14 movie theater was at a standstill

Rather than adding new businesses to contribute to the downtown scene, the building's developers had been tied up in legal battles -- first foreclosure, then bankruptcy -- that stretched back to 2010.

In November, the Sioux City Council approved an agreement with California-based Civic Partners that should bring an end to litigation and a new beginning to development ideas for the structure at 924 Fourth St.

"I think it's time to move on and to do what we know is the right thing to do with the development and see good things happen at that location," Councilman Dan Moore said prior to the agreement's approval.

Though the settlement doesn't recoup all of the city's $2.5 million in losses in the commercial development deal, it does allow for the city to regain at least $1.45 million.

The settlement and the new path forward for the entertainment complex is The Journal's No. 10 story of 2017.

Civic Partners was accused of defaulting on a $5.63 million bank loan for the project, built at a cost of $13 million in 2001. After years of losses, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in April 2011 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Sioux City. That action came five months after a bank had filed for foreclosure on the property.

Civic Partners built the one-story complex in 2004 with millions of dollars in tax incentives and loan guarantees from the city and promised to fill it with restaurants, bars and shops. The movie theater opened soon after, but nearly all of the remaining 12,000 square feet of retail space remains vacant, with unfinished dirt floors.

Water problems inside the building led Main Street Theaters, the Promenade's Omaha-based owner, to seek a renegotiation of rent payments for the movie theater space. A settlement lowering the lease amount paid by Main Street to Civic Partners fell apart in 2010, leading to the foreclosure filing, which led to Civic Partners' bankruptcy filing.

Since then, the case has been tied up in court.

Finally, in November, the settlement was reached that ultimately will conclude those cases. As part of the agreement, the city will drop all litigation against Civic Partners and its owners, Steve and Rose Semingson.

A leasing agent working on behalf of Civic Partners believes interest will now pick up from businesses and entrepreneurs looking to locate in the building, which occupies a prime spot at the end of Historic Fourth Street and across the street from the Convention Center and a soon-to-be-built 150-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel.