The purpose of this page is to briefly report on my experience with Cancer (non-Hodgkins Lymphoma), which began in May of 1988. I hope that you will gain information, encouragement, and motivation.
Cancer type - non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma (large cell)- Age at diagnosis- 42
In 1988, I was a very active and healthy person. I had spent my 42 years basically without any health problems. No broken bones, no trips to the hospital for any reason, no doctor visits except for routine check-ups. I lived a very healthy lifestyle, which involved running 5 to 10 miles daily and competing in weekend road races along with my wife Donna. I had a very healthy diet consisting of a low-fat, high carbohydrate regimen. I coached cross-country at the High School and each day, trained with my team and then ran with Donna when I got home from practice. I thought that I was probably one of the healthiest people in Toccoa, Georgia. That's when I started having problems.
START OF PROBLEM
I started having lower back pain. At first it would come and go but it gradually started coming more often and going less often. I finally went to the doctor at Donna's insistence and he x-rayed me and could find no problems and said that I may have strained some muscles and he explained that lower back pain is a very common ailment for men in their 40's. This problem continued for months throughout the soccer season. (I coached the High School Soccer Team.) My back pain would often wake me up several times during the night and I made several doctors visits to no avail. I was prescribed muscle relaxers and pain pills but nothing brought relief. I started having night sweats that I figured were caused by my back pain. Later, I started having indigestion and I would feel hungry and then I would start eating and couldn't eat much before I was full. I was ready to try another doctor at this time. One morning as I was shaving and as I was looking in the mirror, I noticed a lump in the area between my collarbone and my neck. It was quite a large "goose egg". I was alarmed as I examined it. It was not painful at all but it was an obvious concern. I called the Clinic and was able to see the doctor that morning. He did not know what it was but said that it could be that I had an infection, which caused a swollen lymph node. He prescribed a round of antibiotics and told me to come back in 5 days. After the 5 days, I went back and the lump had not changed and he immediately scheduled me for surgery to do a biopsy of the lump. I was admitted to the hospital for outpatient surgery a few days later. I went back to the doctor for the results and he told me that the pathology report indicated that I had large cell lymphoma. He had already called an Oncologist in Athens and scheduled an appointment for me. This news was shocking to say the least. I did not know much about this form of cancer but I was about to find out more than I wanted to know.... first hand.
One of the toughest parts was telling my family. I was doing fine at first but when I saw my Dad cry, it broke me up. My wife was a strong, loving, pillar of support throughout the ordeal and my Mom and Dad and my two brothers and their families were always there and more than willing to do anything that they could to help out. I drew most of my strength from the prayers of my family and of my Church family and my extended Christian Family. Early on, I turned the whole situation over to God who had sent Jesus to be my personal Savior. I understood from the beginning that as a Christian, I was not promised that I would never have problems, but I was promised that He would never leave me or forsake me. Hebrews 13:5 Also, I had supernatural strength to sustain me throughout this battle. Psalms 46:1-3 and Phil. 4:13 Having this assurance as a Christian was the only way that I could have made it through this battle. If you are not sure that you have a "right relationship with the Lord," [ please click here.]
Now, the medical details: Doctor Wiggans in Athens, GA became my Oncologist. During my first visit with him, he told me that they were having some success in treating Lymphoma cases like mine with aggressive chemotherapy. First, I was put through a series of tests and CAT-Scans and pathology to confirm my original diagnosis. The scans showed that I had a fairly advanced case of lymphoma, which had affected a large cluster of lymph nodes in my abdominal area. These lymph nodes were badly swollen. This was the cause of my back pain all along as they were putting pressure on my spine and internal organs. Dr. Wiggans started me on an 18-week schedule of chemotherapy, which involved three-week cycles of chemo. The first two weeks of each cycle, I would go in to his office for intravenous chemo. This involved seven different drugs which poisoned the rapidly reproducing cells in my body (cancer) and other cells which were producing rapidly such as hair follicles (hence my hair fell out). On the third week I would have only blood work and an exam. My chemo sessions were on Fridays and I knew each week that Friday meant nausea and Saturday and Sunday meant weakness and gradually feeling better. Actually I was always starting to feel pretty good by the time the next Friday rolled around and then ZAP "Here we go again". This was a grueling schedule. Bob and Susie, my brother and sister- in- law, drove me to Athens most weeks while Donna worked. They were a tremendous blessing to me and to Donna at this time of trouble.
At the end of the eighteen-week period, Dr. Wiggans ordered CAT scans again and found that the chemotherapy had helped tremendously but had not done the job completely. I still had a resistant pocket of cancer that had not responded to treatment. He recommended that I go to Emory University Hospital to be evaluated for the possibility of a bone marrow transplant. He scheduled an appointment for me with Dr. David Gordon at Emory and Dr. Gordon admitted me into the hospital for a long series of tests and scans. After studying my case and evaluating all data and consulting with the other doctors on the transplant staff, Dr. Gordon recommended an autologous bone marrow transplant. In this type of transplant, they first harvest bone marrow from the patient (me). This can be done only if your bone marrow is free of cancer. Dr. Wiggans had found this to be the case by doing a bone marrow biopsy in Athens, but Emory did a couple more of the biopsies to make sure. Note: These little tests involve puncturing your pelvis bone with a needle-like instrument and extracting a small amount of marrow for study. These are not exactly a fun experience, but they are bearable. I had to remember Phil. 4:13 .
We agreed to go ahead with the transplant. The first step in preparation for the transplant was outpatient surgery during which Dr. Gordon harvested my bone marrow. They put me to sleep for this, "thank goodness!" He punctured multiple holes in my pelvis similar to the biopsies and extracted a couple of pints of bone marrow. He then froze the marrow in liquid nitrogen. This frozen marrow can be saved for future use for up to ten years later. In my case it was for about a month. The next step for me was a two-week period of radiation treatments on the cancerous area. These treatments were very short but were done daily. Next, I was admitted to Emory for my transplant procedure. I was first given total body radiation then an extreme dose of chemotherapy. This dose is basically a lethal dose because it wipes out your bone marrow along with any cancer cells which had survived the previous treatments. This is when your body is most vulnerable. Your bone marrow is not producing blood cells and your immune system is wiped out. This is where your harvested bone marrow comes in. The next morning, the doctors and nurses came into my room and brought my frozen bone marrow. They thawed it out to the proper temperature and gave me a transfusion of my marrow, basically just like a normal blood transfusion. This transfusion is actually THE transplant. I was conscious and talking to the doctors and nurses and student doctors (this is a teaching hospital. My doctor usually had some under-studies tagging along and observing). The next few days are crucial. The nurses check your blood on a regular basis and give you transfusions of platelets and other blood cells if needed. Many of my teaching friends and many of my family and church family made the trip to Atlanta to donate platelets to be used if needed. When your blood counts start to rise on their own, you are on the road to recovery. My blood started building in the first few days and I was dismissed from the hospital 21 days after the transplant. This was a record for Emory at this time but they have improved the process since then and many patients are now dismissed earlier.
After the ordeal, I was very weak and I very gradually rebuilt my strength. I started walking daily, followed by mixing in a little running and then back to daily running. It took determination and lots of support from my wife and family, but I made it. I am convinced that my strength came from the prayers of so many. During my visits for treatments, I saw and met many patients, some that were Christians and some that were not. I cannot imagine going through something like this without having the Holy Spirit with you to comfort you and give you strength.
After returning weekly for check-ups, and then monthly, then every three months, six-months and then once a year for five years, my doctors pronounced me "cured" and released me! "Praise God from whom all blessings flow!"
I would like to thank all of my doctors who treated me during my illness.
Dr. John Bladowsky - Toccoa Clinic - original diagnosis
Dr. Glenn Wiggans - Athens, GA - Oncologist
Dr. David Gordan - Emory University Clinic - Oncologist and Transplant Primary Doctor
Dr. Ralph Vogler - Emory University Clinic - Transplant Specialist
Dr. Winton - Emory University Clinic - Transplant Specialist
WE CELEBRATED THE 24th ANNIVERSARY OF MY BONE MARROW TRANSPLANT ON DECEMBER 16TH 2012!!!! Still no recurrences!
I am always willing to talk to cancer patients and their families if they have questions.
relates my personal perspective as a patient and is not offered as medical advice.
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Tony and Donna
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