There Is Light At The End Of The Tunnel
I remember driving from Big Bend Park in far west Texas toward Dallas and stopping in Abilene for dinner. I think I had fried chicken and when I got up, I noticed a sharp pain in my upper abdomen. This pain stayed with me through the night into the next day and then into the next week. I lost my appetite.
I knew what it was. Since my 30s (I am 70 now), I have had occasional gastric ulcers and this felt exactly like that. When I finally got back to NYC, my home, I contact my gastroenterologist if there was anything he could do about this constant discomfort. He suggested that I get a CAT Scan. The images indicated a very small inflammation. I asked if it could be cancer and he said "Highly unlikely".
Agressive non-hodgkins lymphoma
The pain grew worse and I became weaker as the weeks passed. My doctor recommended that I get a PET Scan and that one "told the tale". I had inflammation throughout my lower abdomen, around my lower spinal column and I felt both weak and scared. I needed to get a biopsy done on my lymph nodes. The ultrasound indicated that it was likely to be lymphoma. The tests proved that. I remember that I actually chuckled with the news and thought, "Why the fuck me?"
Now I was running a low-grade fever that came and went from 101 to normal in a matter of minutes. It was bizarrely erratic. At night I would wake up soaked in sweat and feeling horrible. This is cancer and this disease will kill me is what I thought.
I was referred to a wonderful oncologist who told me that I had Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. I had an especially aggressive form of the disease that had spread rapidly and I was a stage four. He informed my wife that I had about a 50/50 chance of surviving.
I started RCHOP chemo the next week. Shortly afterward I discovered, to my profound dismay, that the disease had spread to bone marrow.
I was depressed and hopeless. I was recently retired, but my wife was still working, so I had plenty of time to sit around and think about all the terrors of my life. I would go out into Manhattan's busy streets and see "normal" life everywhere and then there was ME, alone, scared, weak, and sick. I remember sitting in the Park (Central Park) and watching people happily walking their dogs, children playing, families having BBQs and think ... "this could be the very last time I will be in this place I love so, so much ... enjoy these fleeting moments ... my time is growing very short ..."
In full remission
That was over two years ago. I am in full remission and have been for more than two years and I feel great. My body is strong and I feel very positively about my prospects going forward.
The origins of lymphoma are not known to science. I suspect that human beings have introduced chemicals into the environment that increase the likelihood of getting this disease. But while our species may be degrading the environment in terrible ways, medical science has made extraordinary advancements in the treatment of this disease. Yes, I went through months of fear and hopelessness. I believe that the chemo was affecting how I thought about life and my prospects. But, for now, cancer has been eradicated. I have had 4 or 5 PET Scans and each has had a Deauville score of 1 - indicated zero uptakes and no observed cancer. I think God for that and I also thank my wonderful doctor and the power of our science.
I know of cases a lot worse than mine where very sick and dying patients are now living lives full of beauty, free of the debilitating effects of both cancer and its treatment. So never lose hope. Always there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Do you worry about relapse?