Published: July 5, 2011
Updated: July 5, 2011
I’ve been fighting cancer for years now. The first year was spent just trying to get an accurate diagnosis.
The fall of 1997, I had a painful case of swollen glands that simply would not go away. I also had a low-grade fever. My primary care physician, of whom I think most highly, was stumped.
Test results were misleading, and so, of course, the antibiotics and other medications I received were ineffective. I spent nearly a full year trying to get an accurate diagnosis.
Finally, I underwent a lymph node biopsy. While still awaiting the lab results, I took a walk with a friend and bet her $20 that I was going to be told I had cancer that day. Unfortunately, I won the bet: No sooner did we get back to my house than the phone rang. It was my doctor, telling me that I had stage 4 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
My first two years of treatment were for the first few years at another area hospital. My oncologist was technically excellent, but he had a rather cold and impersonal manner. The treatment facilities were crowded and dingy.
There was no cancer support program to speak of -- just a few pleasant elderly ladies offering soft drinks and magazines. Fortunately, I have a truly wonderful support network of spouse, family, friends and colleagues who rallied to my aid.
But after nine rounds of multi-drug chemotherapy, I fell into a repetitive cycle of remission and relapse.
The entire summer of 2000 was spent in the hospital having a stem cell transplant. I lost so much weight that I went from a size 12 to a size 4 and lost all of my hair for the second time.
I finally began to recover the following January -- only to relapse again ten months later. By then, I had realized that my cancer was probably not going to be cured, but was going to be around for the long haul as a chronic disease.
A member of my fellowship told me about Dr. Joseph Moore at Duke Cancer Institute, and I decided to seek him out. I was willing to live with cancer, but I wanted an oncologist that I could really talk to and trust.
As soon as I got to Duke, I felt like I was in cancer treatment heaven. The therapy rooms are spacious, and the atmosphere is great.
Everyone -- from the receptionists to the nurses to the phlebotomists -- is friendly and warm. Volunteers from the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program offer all types of services, from counseling with patients and families to bringing in flowers from their gardens. It made me think of the theme from the TV show Cheers: "Everyone knows your name."
And Dr. Moore has proven to be a remarkable person as well as a physician. He's so caring and genuine: When he looks at you, it's as if you're the only person in the room.
Dr. Moore suggested two more treatments of a monoclonal antibody called Rituxan, but my relapses kept getting shorter in duration. By the Spring of 2002, I had relapsed again.
A new chemo-radiotherapy called Zevalin had just become available a few months before, and we decided to give it a try.
One of Dr. Moore’s nurses worked tirelessly to set up the protocol for Zevalin, as I was the first Duke patient to receive this treatment. It was a two-treatment regimen, and I felt better almost immediately. The only side effect was an extended period of low blood counts, which lasted into 2003.
I have recently seen Dr. Moore and have been told I am in remission and that I should expect two or three more years or maybe more of full remission.
In addition to the excellent medical care Dr. Moore has provided me, I've been greatly impressed by Duke's Cancer Patient Support Program, under the direction of Rachel Schanberg and her caring staff.
This program has been of tremendous value to me during my illness. As a cancer patient at Duke, this program provides help for the challenges facing cancer patients and their families.
The program has made such an impact on me that I decided to become one of their volunteers. I was a professional counselor before I got cancer and now, working with cancer patients, I feel as if I’ve found my niche. I volunteer once or twice weekly and find it exceptionally rewarding.
I’m resuming most of my normal activities including yoga, walking with my dogs, hiking, biking and gardening. In April, I took my first vacation since 2001 and went to San Francisco for two weeks to visit friends. I’ve got a neat little sailboat I’m eager to take out on the water again.
Every day is so precious to me now, and I plan to have a great time. Whatever comes up, I know that I can deal with it because I’ve had angels along the way, and many of them are cancer patients support folks. Spring is here, a time of rebirth and renewal…the perfect time to be in remission.