It was the fall of 2003. Avid swimmer, weightlifter and runner Bill Crews was, as he puts it, "in the best shape of my life." That's why he wasn't terribly alarmed when he lost the use of his left shoulder after a hard swim. "I thought I had torn my rotator cuff," Bill says.
The next day, Bill went to see his orthopedic surgeon. Three days later, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Bill says, "When I heard lymphoma, I immediately thought: 'I have a wife and two little kids. I can't die.' " Bill's orthopedic surgeon recommended MD Anderson. "Once I got there, I knew I wasn't going anywhere else," he says.
Treatment from MD Anderson
By the time Bill was diagnosed, his cancer had turned aggressive. Fredrick Hagemeister, Bill's doctor, explains: "To have a slow-growing lymphoma involving your bone is relatively rare. And there was blood involvement, which is also very unusual." Dr. Hagemeister understood Bill's lymphoma and immediately began working with his team to develop a treatment designed to attack the cancer just as aggressively as it was attacking Bill's body.
Bill says, "I asked Dr. Hagemeister, 'Can I keep working out? Can I continue to run?' " He was advised to stick to walking, but Dr. Hagemeister assured him the treatment was designed to help protect his heart. "He's an athlete, so we wanted to reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems later on," Dr. Hagemeister says.
With the support of his wife – who started a family blog, and the support of his kids, who wrote a book about their experience – Bill finally was able to beat an incurable form of cancer. He not only credits them, but also MD Anderson. He says confidently, "You get top-notch treatment there. You're not just a number. You're a person, and they want to see you survive."
Surviving lymphoma has been just one of many great accomplishments for Bill Crews. In addition to more than a dozen triathlons and an Ironman, he recently hosted and participated in a five-year anniversary run to celebrate his remission. All proceeds from the run went to help the Hagemeister Research Fund. "Dr. Hagemeister and MD Anderson helped make my cancer history," Bill says. "Now I'm helping them make other people's cancer history."