Stage IV mantle cell lymphoma survivor Richard Bagdonas and his wife, Tina Schweiger, live in Austin, Texas, with their two boys, Alec, 7, and Sky, 4, and dogs Jasper and Jellybean.
It was back in 2018 when my family traveled to Mexico that I had the blind fortune to consume a papaya with protozoa that caused intestinal discomfort upon our return to the states. My doctor referred me to a gastroenterologist, who performed a colonoscopy and offered initial feedback that everything looked great. He had seen some minor inflammation on my intestinal walls and took a biopsy for the lab. Three weeks later he called and told me to sit down: “You’ve pulled the golden lottery ticket. You have lymphoma.”
It didn’t feel like I had won a prize. But that doctor was right. My request for help manifested in friends and family locating Dr. Michael Wang, founder and director of the Mantle Cell Lymphoma Program of Excellence at MD Anderson.
I emailed Dr. Wang and he responded the very next morning asking to see me in his office. Four days later I saw him in Houston. Dr. Wang had a calming effect, which was just what I needed to feel safe. After some tests to confirm the diagnosis of stage IV mantle cell lymphoma, he invited me to join his upcoming clinical trial using Rituxan and ibrutinib, two immunotherapy drugs. A few months later, Dr. Wang introduced me to his team as the study’s patient No. 1.
I continued working full time and exercising seven days a week. My children knew I had cancer and was being treated at MD Anderson. They saw me leave one day on the Vonlane bus and return the following day feeling stronger. I biked miles and miles around the Texas Medical Center after many of my Rituxan infusions. Fifty-six days after starting treatment, we celebrated the confirmation that I was in complete metabolic remission. Dr. Wang had done it. The cancer was gone.
My family and I healed together. Because of Dr. Wang, Dr. Jim Allison (Nobel laureate, chair of Immunology) and everyone at MD Anderson, we have transitioned from patient and caregivers to advocates for MD Anderson and its amazing work.
My recommendation to those recently diagnosed with cancer is to breathe, visit mdanderson.org and contact them today. They are here for you with one goal: to end cancer.
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