My journey with cancer begins in January of 2015 with a small red spot in the center of my chest. I remember first seeing it after taking a shower. Although odd I didn’t think much of it; I was young at only 35, a very active father of two children and considered myself to be in good health. I thought little of it and went on with my busy life. Over the next 4 months’ new spots started appearing and as the spots got larger I could feel lumps under the spots. I was also losing weight and not sleeping well, although at the time I didn’t connect any of these issues together. In April of 2015 I finally decided to make an appointment with my doctor.
My primary physician referred me to a dermatologist who suggested a biopsy. It was a simple procedure done right in the doctor’s office. It was another couple of weeks before the results came back. The doctor called on a Thursday afternoon while I was in the office; the results indicated I had a form of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I was shocked, I had convinced myself that it was just a reaction to something or maybe calcium deposits which I’ve had in the past. But no, I had Cancer.
I needed to tell my wife, I wanted to tell her right away so she could tell me it would be okay and we’d get through this. But the timing was horrible. My Birthday and Mother’s Day fell back to back on the approaching weekend. My wife had worked to make plans for my birthday and I the same for her on Mother’s Day. This news would surely take all of the joy from our celebrations. I decided to wait to tell her, or anybody else. My wife tells me I should have told her, and she’s probably right, but I just couldn’t bring myself to say anything, the kids and Michelle were enjoying themselves so much. It was a great weekend; my birthday went off without a hitch and Michelle had a wonderful relaxing Mother’s Day. I even convinced my wife to get a hamster for our daughter from a local pet expo.
On the following Monday I told my wife the results of the biopsy. She was loving and supportive telling me what I already knew. Together we can get through anything. We decided not to say anything to the kids until we had to. And managed to go through my entire treatment without ever saying the word Cancer to or in front of our children.
The next couple months were filled with more biopsies, tests and scans. In the meantime, we began discussing treatment options with my doctors. The two Oncologists I was seeing had a difference of opinion over the exact subtype of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that I have. It was suggested by one of the doctors that I try a “watch and wait” approach. This approach made no sense to me. I had been “watching” this cancer spread from my chest to my arms and back for 6 months now and it had been stressful. I didn’t want to “wait” any longer, every morning I looked in the mirror and was reminded of the worries and uncertainty the future may hold. I wanted to start fighting back now.
The doctors told me there was no cure for my cancer and that my battle would be a lifelong one. I was ready for the fight, I had my family’s support and a positive attitude. Eventually more testing determined the exact subtype of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that I had & I started Immunotherapy treatments in August of 2015.
I handled the treatments well and the side effects were tolerable. I was extremely tired the day of treatment and for maybe a day or two following. I continued to lose weight, at my lightest I weighed less than 130 lbs, and developed joint pain that got progressively worse as the treatments went on. My legs get very restless as well.
The first couple of treatments were the most difficult. Due to the potential for adverse reactions, the first infusions are done very slowly. Unfortunately, I still developed a reaction to the treatment. Shortly after the infusion began, I began to feel itchy and asked my wife if she could scratch my back. She lifted my shirt and gasped, almost my entire upper body was covered in huge, red hives. They stopped the infusion immediately and switched over to IV antihistamine to treat the reaction. Once everything seemed under control they began the immunotherapy infusion again at a slower rate, taking more than eight hours to complete the first treatment. Treatment days continued to be an all-day affair but they were able to control the reactions during the remainder of the treatments.
At the end of my treatments I was feeling great. I even felt a bit lucky, the side effects weren’t horrible, the small tumors had faded away and the large ones were getting smaller every day. I hadn’t lost my hair or had to undergo any surgeries. At my appointment a couple weeks following treatment I even heard the words every cancer patient hopes for. Remission. Well Partial Remission for me, but I’ll take it. The tumors had mostly gone away and I was happy, life was good. My Wife and I with our two wonderful children were ready for move on with our lives. But we were in for another shock…
In February of 2016 my wife was diagnosed with Stage 2B Breast Cancer. My wife’s cancer was more aggressive than mine and treatment started very quickly. In March my wife had bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. After healing from surgery she began chemotherapy, and following chemotherapy, she underwent radiation which she just finished this past month. My wife is the most amazing person I have ever known. All throughout my treatments she took care of me and our family. And all though her own cancer treatments, she still took care of our family. My wife is an an amazing mom, wonderful wife and my best friend.
As if that weren’t all enough, in June my cancer unfortunately relapsed. After new tests and scans my doctors believe the same cancer has returned. This wasn’t completely unexpected; my wife and I were prepared for this possibility.
My treatment will be similar this time, but much longer. I am currently undergoing treatment every week in an effort to stop and shrink the current tumor growth. After which I will continue to receive treatments every other month for the next 3 years and we’ll reassess at that point.
In spite of it all, we’re still as strong and positive as ever. Cancer has been hard on our family but it has made us stronger and for that we are grateful.