"It's almost certainly nothing, but we might as well check."
That's how it started. I felt my hope slide as "nothing" led to surgery. The lab results revealed that the lump on my side was diffuse large b-cell lymphoma -- specifically, a rare and aggressive form caused by the MYC and BCL2 genetic mutations.
My wife and I held each other when we got the news. But she immediately set the tone for what was ahead: we would allow ourselves to feel sorrow, anger and pain for one day. Then, we would fight.
My diffuse large b-cell lymphoma treatment at MD Anderson
By the grace of God, we had moved to Houston only months earlier, which gave us easy access to MD Anderson.
My oncologist, Luis Fayad, M.D., understood me right away. He knew I wanted the truth and never diluted it -- even when it hurt. He and his staff worked tirelessly to help me beat the odds and give me all the information I wanted. As I went through a jungle of chemotherapy, PET scans, bone marrow aspirations and bloodwork, I read every book, study and journal article I could get my hands on. For me, the adage "knowledge is power" was reassuring. I got to know the monster inside of me and how I could beat it.
My spirits were lifted after my first clean PET scan, but I quickly learned there was more to do. In fact, I was told that if I stopped, success would be temporary. My medical team encouraged me to continue chemo, add radiation and undergo a stem cell transplant.
Around Halloween, I checked into MD Anderson to begin the stem cell transplant process under the care of Issa Khouri, M.D. Stem cell transplants take hold of your immune system, and the fevers that come with them can leave your spirt as helpless as your body. My family and floor nurses saw me through mine by bringing me ice packs to fight delirious fevers and through offering me soup after I had gone days without eating.
My b-cell lymphoma support team
The volunteers in my personal support team gave me the strength I needed to focus on beating cancer. My colleagues at work stepped up in my absence. My overseas, out-of-state and local friends visited. My family cancelled trips and moves in order to be in Houston to help me.
The heaviest burden fell on my wife, who stayed strong and committed throughout the entire process. She offered to leave her law school program and walk away from the path she was paving towards a highly successful career. Ultimately, we decided together that she should continue. As she faced an incredible workload at school, she spent every night with me in the hospital and never complained. I'm eternally grateful to her.
Around Thanksgiving, I was able to return home. I continued with my treatment and slowly began receiving positive updates after each scan and blood test.
The importance of a team effort
As spring arrived and my inpatient treatment ended, I felt something I hadn't in almost nine months -- the desire to run. I've been a runner my entire life, but I stopped during treatment. I ran a mile that day and slowly pushed myself farther each time after that.
All my life, I've been a runner, and only now do I really know why I do it. The marathon battle against cancer makes you realize that everything, even running, is a team effort. Every time I run -- or do anything to celebrate life, for that matter -- I know it's because my team is behind me.