At the beginning of 2014 I was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Near the end of January I started chemo therapy, and four months later the cancer was completely gone. However, about four months after that it was back. And that’s where this story begins.
(To read more about those initial months, though, be sure to check out my book “The Cancer Diaries” which you can get for free here.)
Summer had come, and with it had come a change to our “new normal.” Chemo therapy had come to an end. My place of work had expanded their reach, leading to a greater burden on the staff. And I was trying to jump from 50% operational to 110% overnight.
I couldn’t do it. I felt myself stumbling more and more every day, and my endurance was eroded also by my general frustration which, naturally, caused further and greater frustration. I knew I was drowning, and I felt like people in leadership were helping it along. Projects were taken from me that weren’t really mine to begin with, but that I had grown very attached to. And all the while I felt myself crumbling under the pressure.
Then my most recent PET scan found the spots.
They were very small. And there were only three or four of them. But that didn’t change the fact that they were there. And suddenly we were flung right back into cancer mode.
It wasn’t all bad news, though. Because of the spots I got a weekend off. (Did I mention I was in a dark place at that time?)
Dr. Chaves, my oncologist, jumped on it. He was extremely alarmed by this development, particularly because the cancer had returned so quickly after being defeated. Immediately he laid out a new treatment plan: we would start with a different chemo therapy called ICE, and then we would move directly into a bone marrow transplant.
The term bone marrow transplant is slightly misleading and incredibly mystifying. What the heck even is it, how does it work, what does it do? Basically, it’s where the marrow in your bones is nuked with what the doctors term “a lethal dose” of chemo, literally killing your immune system and the factory inside your body that creates blood cells. It also hopefully kills whatever cancer remains in your body. Then, when your body starts to falter, fall apart and shut down, they inject you with stem cells (either taken from your own body at some point prior – called an autologous transplant – or taken from another person – called an allogeneic transplant.) These stem cells latch into your bones and start recreating the systems that had been destroyed by the chemo.
Because of its highly toxic nature, ICE (the coolest chemo around – cue drum roll) required that one of its bags be delivered over a 24-hour period – which meant it was an in-patient procedure rather than the out-patient chemo I had always received in the past. We were planning to have two rounds of ICE, and then we were going to go to Seattle (the only place they really do transplants for lymphoma in the area) and have my stem cells extracted, as I had been deemed able to have an autologous transplant. Then we would come back down for another round of ICE, and at some point after that we would move up to Seattle for a couple of months.
I got through the first treatment of ICE without incident, then started toward the second. Right before we went in, though, we received a call from the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. They said they were excited to have us up there as soon as round two was over. We said there must be some mistake. We were only going up there to harvest stem cells, and then coming back for another month or two. They replied that what we had been told was incorrect. We weren’t just going up there to collect stem cells: when we went up there we would begin our treatment there in earnest, and we were going to need to move up there starting on October 9th.
I had a conversation with my work, and they informed me that they would not be able to support me financially while I was away. I told them I understood, and that God would provide for us.
A few days later I had my second round of ICE. And a few days after this I dropped everything at work, my wife and I packed our suit cases, we kissed our children goodbye, and then we climbed in the car and headed up to Seattle.
October 9th, for us, was the day everything changed.
This is the first post of probably three. More to come shortly!