Stage III B cell lymphoma survivor: Go to MD Anderson first
By the time I got to MD Anderson in early 2011, I was very, very sick. I’d been diagnosed with a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma called B cell lymphoma several months earlier. It was stage III. But the treatment I’d been receiving at a local hospital system wasn’t working. I needed to try something different.
A large tumor in my abdomen was about the size of a small grapefruit. It was pressing against my rib cage and squashing my intestines. It was also still growing.
It turned out that the chemotherapy regimen I’d been prescribed was not quite right for my type of cancer. But I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t gone to MD Anderson. And, I probably wouldn’t still be here to talk about it either.
My corrected B cell lymphoma treatment
The first doctor I met with at MD Anderson was lymphoma specialist Dr. Fredrick Hagemeister. I consider him my savior. He told me during my initial appointment that my type of lymphoma was very aggressive, but he felt confident he could treat it.
Dr. Hagemeister also discovered that my previous treatment plan was not ideal. My diagnosis had been accurate, but the chemotherapy combination was not the most appropriate.
After completing his own set of tests and scans, Dr. Hagemeister started me on a different chemotherapy regimen. Instead of “R-CHOP” — which combines the targeted therapy rituximab with cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine and prednisone, a type of steroid — he prescribed rituximab with two different chemotherapy agents: ifosfamide and etoposide. I went to MD Anderson for an infusion of them every Friday and stayed until Sunday.
Stem cell transplant and surgery gave me my life back
Dr. Hagemeister’s wanted to get me well enough so that I could have a stem cell transplant. He said that was my best chance of reaching and staying in remission. Once he got my cancer levels down as far as they could go with chemo, he said I was ready. I had the procedure using my own cells on May 6, 2011.
The stem cell transplant went very well, and I recovered fully. But once I got taken off of tube feeding that summer, I just got sicker and sicker. I couldn’t keep anything down and dropped to 180 pounds. It was the skinniest I’d ever been in my life. When I reached the point that I couldn’t even drink water anymore, I finally went to the emergency room at MD Anderson.
There, surgical oncologist Dr. Jean-Nicolas Vauthey performed exploratory surgery. He discovered that the tumor had created a tiny hole between my small and large intestines. That’s why I couldn’t eat and felt so tired. So, he cut out the bad sections of my intestines and sewed me back together. I haven’t had a problem since.
But even as sick as I was by the time I finally got there, Dr. Hagemeister gave me so much confidence. Every time I had an appointment with him, he would explain what he was doing and why, and what he was seeing as a result. Then he’d say, “Everything is going according to plan. We’ve just got to get through this tough spot.” His positive attitude helped me so much.
I haven’t shown any signs of lymphoma since 2011. I’ve been in remission for so long now that I don’t even need to see an oncologist. Lymphoma specialist Dr. Ranjit Nair told me in 2017 that I am now considered a cancer survivor, so unless I start showing symptoms again, I can just follow up with my regular doctor and have age-appropriate cancer screenings as needed.
That’s why I tell everybody I know: “Don’t mess around if you ever get cancer. Go to MD Anderson.” Because, now, I can’t imagine going anywhere else.