After an MRI in 2004 for back pain, my doctor found a cyst on the right side of my stomach that had to come out. A surgeon in Abbeville, Louisiana did a biopsy and found that I had non-Hodgkin’s follicular lymphoma in my small intestines. It was stage I, found early.
A local oncologist suggested a wait-and-watch approach since the cancer was slow-growing. I sought a second opinion at MD Anderson with Jorge Romaguera, M.D. He also recommended watchful waiting, so I returned home and received scans -- at first every three months, then every six months, then once a year for 9 ½ years with no change.
Then, in late October 2013, I developed a lump on the right side of my neck. When it was still there a month later, I got a needle biopsy, which showed lymphoma. My local oncologist did a more detailed biopsy, which showed that I had double-hit lymphoma, a rare and aggressive type of B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. While most lymphomas have just one genetic mutation, double-hit lymphoma has two.
My stem cell transplant journey
I was told that a stem cell transplant was the only option for curing double-hit lymphoma. Since stem cell transplants are not done in Lafayette, my oncologist referred me to MD Anderson. Typically, age 70 is the cut-off for a stem cell transplant. I was 71. But because of my overall health, my oncologist felt that I may still be a good candidate for a stem cell transplant.
On March 17, 2014, I checked into MD Anderson and underwent a detailed evaluation with Dr. Romaguera. Because there was no cancer anywhere else in my body and I was in otherwise excellent health, my doctors said I could undergo an autologous stem cell transplant, which would use my own stem cells. Everyone I met at MD Anderson was encouraging and hopeful for my recovery.
In preparation for my transplant, I rented an apartment in Houston. For five days before the transplant, I received chemotherapy around the clock to prepare my body. On April 17, 2014, I received my transplant under the care of Sairah Ahmed, M.D. The transplant itself was painless and calming. I never once faltered in my belief that it would work.
Just 12 days later, I returned to my apartment. Though I’d expected to stay in Houston 100 days, I responded so well to the transplant that I returned to Louisiana almost two months after I’d checked into MD Anderson to start chemotherapy.
My stem cell transplant support team
There’s a sign that greets us as we walk into MD Anderson: “When you walk through our doors, you are a survivor.” That made a huge impression on me. I realized that to survive this, I could not leave it only to my doctors. I had to be up for the fight. I did everything I was told to do -- what to eat, when to walk, what to drink. My care team knew best when it came to how to get me well.
Dr. Ahmed and her staff were always caring, always smiling and always asking about me and my family. They treated the whole me, not just my cancer.
My children, my family and my friends stayed with me in Houston, cooking what I could eat while I was in my apartment and helping whenever I needed them. My faith also carried me.
Embracing life after my stem cell transplant
I have been cancer-free since my stem cell transplant and, aside from a few days of feeling bad from the chemo, I haven’t had any side effects.
I live a full life now. Cancer hit me twice, but it did not keep me down. It did not ruin my spirit, my courage or my will to live.
Thank you, thank you, MD Anderson for being there in my darkest hours and giving me a light at the end of the tunnel. I am forever grateful.
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