At 36 years of age I'm zipping along with hardly a care in the world. Like most of us at that point in our lives I felt pretty invincible. I was running daily, at the gym regularly, and was maybe in the best shape of my life. Little did I know I was about to be in for an abrupt change.
A chronic issue I had had for years was examined further. After all of the tests were run my wife and I received the news that no one wants to hear - it was cancer. Diagnosed with Lymphoma, I began a 6 month regimen of chemotherapy, leaving me feeling like a wreck. The good news is that the treatment did work and life soon went back to normal.
Seven years later, on a routine scheduled follow up, we found that the Lymphoma had returned. Without going into great detail let's fast forward to my 25th year since the original diagnosis. I was now in my 6th treatment period. The last couple of years I was put on a maintenance program while keeping a close watch.
Then, the week before Easter of 2017 I began having bad lower back issues. After a few days my wife said "enough" and insisted on taking me to the ER. Scans there showed swollen lymph nodes that had rapidly progressed in that area causing the pressure I was feeling. A full scan the next day revealed the disease was throughout the lower half of my stomach. I was immediately hospitalized and given a new regimen of chemo and after a week released to go home. Over the next 4 months the treatments were outpatient.
I'll have to admit I had never really realized what tired was. Four days after a treatment it was a major chore just to towel dry my hair (what was left of it). To make things worse, the end result was only a 10-15% reduction in the cancer. I remember the emotion I felt knowing our 2 daughters were leaving for college and how unsure I felt about the future.
Now this is where things really start to get interesting. My oncologist referred me to the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory to see if I would qualify for one of their experimental immunotherapy programs. It took 4 weeks to meet with them and after reviewing my new scans and history, they gave us a few options. We agreed with the regimen that was recommended. The only issue was that it would be a minimum of 2 weeks before we could begin treatments.
By that time things had really escalated and the Lymphoma was now throughout my whole stomach. Unable to sleep in a bed for 4 weeks, I spent every day and night in a recliner, only getting up (crouched over) to go to the bathroom. My stomach was extended to the point of looking pregnant and the pressure became unbearable. When the 2 weeks were finally up, we were given the great news that they were ready to begin treating me. To get me from place to place that day my wife had to push me around in a wheelchair. It was excruciating to walk.
Now what I'm about to tell you is the honest to goodness truth. The treatment began at about noon on Tuesday and lasted about 5 hours. Because of the progression of the disease it was decided to give me only 27% of the 1st dose that day and the remaining 73% on Wednesday. They also gave me 2 drugs to take orally every day at home. The evening of the 1st day I began to feel my stomach loosening up to the point that I was able to sleep in bed for the first night in a month. The following night, after receiving the remainder, I was able to walk upright and felt almost normal. Unbelievably, by Thursday afternoon I felt good enough to get in the gym for a light workout. Crazy, right?!
Fast forward 9 months and there is now no trace of the Lymphoma. I'm voluntarily continuing quarterly treatments at Emory while also taking the at home meds. Amazingly, outside of my counts being a little low, there have been almost no side effects. There are so many huge success stories coming from these experimental drugs and immunotherapy looks to be the future of cancer treatment. This gives so much hope for so many of us. I've seen it first hand and met others with similar stories. We hope and pray for a cure but are thankful for the advances in treatment for those who need it.
I realize I have been given a gift. A few years ago my daughters helped come up with the idea of an online apparel business. Just Leap Outfitters was started with a goal to be able to help others who are, or will be facing this dreadful disease by donating a portion of the profits to cancer research. Feel free to visit our website at www.justleapoutfitters.com or www.justleap.com .
Also, our youngest daughter asked me to partner with her in opening an online boutique. The website is www.sweetirisboutique.com .