When I was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in November 2017, my first thought was that I had to get to MD Anderson. I’d long been aware of its global reputation, so I knew I would get the best possible treatment there.
What I didn’t expect was the care I received along with it — and I mean, from everyone: the doctors, the nurses, the physician assistants, and especially, my radiation oncologist, Dr. Jillian Gunther.
My Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis
My Hodgkin lymphoma symptoms started with what I thought was a common cold. But the cough never really went away, so I kept visiting our family physician and trying out different medications. None of them worked. Eventually, he ordered a chest X-ray. The radiologist saw a mass in my chest, along with fluid around my lungs.
My doctor ordered a CT scan. That’s when I learned I had a 6.5-inch tumor around my heart and several enlarged lymph nodes in my neck. My doctor sent me to a pulmonologist to determine next steps. That specialist sent me immediately for a lung biopsy.
We waited three long days for the results, but they were inconclusive. My doctor ordered a second biopsy of my lymph nodes. This one came back positive. I had stage III Hodgkin lymphoma.
My first treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma
For me, a cancer diagnosis was really unexpected. I’ve never smoked or drunk alcohol. And I’m a runner who was jogging up to five miles a day, three times a week. So while I was happy to finally have an explanation for why I felt so bad, I was also devastated by the seriousness of my disease.
I made an appointment right away at MD Anderson. But before my first appointment, I became so sick that I ended up in the MD Anderson emergency room. I was admitted to the hospital that same night, and within five days, I was receiving my first dose of chemotherapy.
Handling the side effects of Hodgkin lymphoma treatment
At first, I felt overwhelmed. Everything had happened so fast. Dr. Hun Ju Lee answered many of my questions when I was admitted. But when I returned for my follow-up appointments, it was his physician assistant, Michael “Wes” Morrow, who really took care of me.
My wife and I had so many questions and concerns, and he was caring, sympathetic and honest. He explained some of the bad news gently and clearly early on. That meant so much when we were still just trying to wrap our heads around everything.
Wes also made sure that I had all the medications I’d need to treat my treatment’s side effects, such as nausea and constipation. He seemed to anticipate everything.
Why I had some of my treatments at MD Anderson in Sugar Land
I had my first four chemotherapy treatments at the Texas Medical Center Campus, because I had other appointments and tests scheduled on those days. But after the first couple of months, I began going to MD Anderson in Sugar Land when I just needed chemotherapy.
I live in Sugar Land, and that location is no more than 10 minutes away from my house. So, I loved going there — not only because it was convenient, but also because the people there are absolutely wonderful. They truly love their jobs.
After only a single visit, the receptionist greeted me by name. She was always in a good mood, too — and even better, she could always get me to smile. The nurses were also wonderful. They were very personable, kind and loving. I felt like a real person to them, not just a number.
The genuineness of their caring became even clearer when I ran into one of them at a community event. The nurse asked how I was feeling, and expressed hope that I’d stay well. And I could tell that she really meant it.
Next step: radiation therapy
By the end of April 2018, I’d finished chemotherapy, so I met with Dr. Gunther, my radiation oncologist. She turned out to be my favorite doctor of all time, because she showed so much concern and thoughtfulness. She also expressed optimism about my situation and backed up her suggestions with data and research.
Dr. Gunther recommended 15 days of radiation therapy. A few issues came up while I was receiving it, so I called her. Dr. Gunther responded faster than any doctor I’ve ever had.
The essence of MD Anderson
Today, I am completely healed. I finished my treatments in July 2018, and my last PET scan showed no evidence of cancer. What an enormous gift!
I’ve also gotten back into running, and I am up to four miles a day. I feel like I’m living a new life, and I have everyone at MD Anderson to thank for it.
My experience is what I consider to be the essence of MD Anderson. It truly is a special place. And that’s why I feel at home every time I step inside its doors.