Lymphoma treatment teaches survivor to prioritize health
As an attorney, Corey Ellis has endured strict deadlines and harsh hours. All of that, though, pales in comparison to the stress he experienced when he was diagnosed with stage IE extranodal N/K T-cell lymphoma, a rare cancer that was in his nasal passage.
“There’s been no more stressful episode in my life,” he says. “The sort of cancer that I had, statistically, never happens in the United States. There’s almost no information available for it.”
Seeking extranodalN/K T-cell lymphoma treatment
Corey received his lymphoma diagnosis in July 2013, while living in eastern Tennessee.
“I will never forget the doctor’s words: ‘I’m so sorry Mr. Ellis, but I have some bad news. You need to get your affairs in order,’” Corey recalls. “I was completely defeated temporarily by those words.”
Hoping for better news, he went to a hospital in Nashville. When he found out that they’d never treated his diagnosis, he turned to the internet to search for experts. He found one -- a researcher in Japan. That researcher connected him with his protégé, Yasuhiro Oki, M.D., here at MD Anderson.
In early September, Corey flew to Houston to meet with Dr. Oki and was struck by how quickly Oki looped radiation oncologist Bouthaina Dabaja, M.D., into their meeting, even though he didn’t have an appointment with her.
“Unlike the other physicians I talked to, they immediately had a treatment plan in mind, and they were obviously well-coordinated,” he says. “I made the decision then and there that I was going to receive my lymphoma treatment at MD Anderson.”
Dabaja and Oki’s plan included 30 rounds of radiation therapy and three rounds of the chemotherapy cocktail, DeVIC (dexamethasone, etoposide, ifosfamide, carboplatin). But they decided to take a new approach and start both treatments simultaneously.
During his three months in Houston, Corey treated his cancer treatment like a job.
“I would get up early every day, like regular business hours, and dress professionally, and I always set my radiation treatment appointment first thing in the morning so that I could get it out of my way,” he says.
After each treatment, he and his wife grabbed breakfast and then walked 5-10 miles.
“The doctors there told me that staying active was an important part of my treatment, so I was consistent in following through on that,” he says. “My goal was to beat cancer and be alive because I had responsibilities to two children. It’s never been so easy to go for a 5-mile walk despite how lousy I felt through some of this treatment.”
“I believe that I got so wrapped up mentally in the stresses of my day that I didn’t take care of my physical health,” he says. “By being reminded of my mortality and learning from the folks at the Integrative Medicine Center, I learned how to better take care of my health and prioritize that above anything else.”
On Dec. 12, 2013, a post-treatment staging scan confirmed all of Corey’s efforts had paid off. He’s been in remission for more than three years now, and he’s kept up his dedication to living a healthier lifestyle and managing his stress.
“I’m more in tune with my mental and emotional health, and I prioritize taking care of those things through regular social contact with friends, consistent vigorous exercise and perspective,” he says. “My dedication to exercising is a very different level of dedication than it was before cancer. Prior to cancer, when I had stressful, time-sensitive times in my life, exercise was the first thing to go. I’m not that way anymore.”