Bruce Mathwig

First post: Dec 5, 2018 Latest post: Oct 1, 2021
Welcome to our CaringBridge website. Thank you for visiting.

Bruce's cancer story began in October 1986, shortly after my parents were married in April and found out Lorinda was pregnant with their first child (me) in July. He was originally diagnosed with small lymphocytic lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The treatment regimen included 6 cycles of chemotherapy, but after the 5th cycle he was presenting symptoms of heart injury, resulting in one month of radiation in place of the the 6th cycle. That did the trick, and while I had more hair in my baby pictures that he did, he was cancer free! He made a full recovery and enjoyed 23 years of remission. In that time, my parents raised their three kids, built a beautiful home out in the country, gardened, traveled, worked hard and found a few moments to relax. 

In October 2010, after working outside at the house all day my Dad noticed a lump under his arm. And within a few weeks, it was confirmed -- cancer was back. This time he was diagnosed with Diffused Large B-cell lymphoma, also a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Again, the treatment regimen included 6 cycles of chemotherapy, known as R-CHOP. And while it was no walk in the park, he got through all 6 cycles without any significant set-backs or long-term side effects. He received the 'cancer-free' clearance on the day of my parents 25th wedding anniversary! Life returned to normal, my parents enjoyed traveling abroad to visit my brother in Austria and a couple years after that visiting my sister in Japan and brother in South Korea, working hard and finding those few moments here and there to relax. 

In March 2017, less than a month after my wedding we found out that, yet again, the cancer had returned. It was a slightly different kind of the same cancer he had in 2010, and would be treated very similarly. At this point in his life, however, he had reached the maximum limit for some of the necessary chemo drugs. With that added risk, the treatment regimen of 6 cycles of R-CHOP began. There were a few larger bumps in the road this time around, but by the power of God and prayer from family and friends, my Dad's sheer will and strength and good drugs - he finished all 6 cycles and received the 'cancer-free!' clearance. It was just a matter of weeks from then that he began losing strength again and during a regularly scheduled post-cancer echocardiogram, the technician told my Dad he wasn't going to be leaving the hospital that day. He was in heart failure with less than 25% heart function (50 - 60% is normal) and arrhythmia. This was caused from the cardio-toxic chemo drugs damaging the muscles surrounding his heart. Once again, we had a great team of doctors and nurses and my Dad came out of the arrhythmia and overtime improved his heart function up to the high-40% range.  Life began to return to normal.

In late-September 2018, just over a year from overcoming his last round of chemo and heart failure some all too familiar, unpleasant symptoms started presenting. A visit to Dr. B (our beloved oncologist through all these years) on October 30 lead to a conversation of what to do. For the most part all of my Dad's blood levels looked normal, there was just one level slightly elevated. Dr. B asked my Dad what would reassure him and they decided to do a PET scan on November 2. 

On Monday, November 5th, we received the news we knew was coming. Cancer was back. On Friday, November 9th, a biopsy of the cancer was done. On Friday, November 16th, Dr. B confirmed it was the exact same cancer as what he had in 2017 - which was actually encouraging. It meant there was a higher likelihood it would respond to treatment again. The question was, what would that treatment be. He could not undergo CHOP again because of his heart complications. That and the reoccurring/chronic nature of the lymphoma has led us to the path of an Autologous Bone Marrow/Stem Cell transplant. 

On Thursday, November 29 my Dad had his first consultation at the University of Minnesota (UoM) Masonic Cancer Clinic (MCC) with the Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) team. They agreed that setting out on the path of an Autologous BMT presented the best case of survival. On Friday, November 30 my Dad returned to the UofM MCC to have an echocardiogram, lab work and a bone marrow biopsy. 

Pending the results of pathology on Monday, December 3rd, my Dad was admitted to the University of Minnesota Hospital Oncology to begin the first round of R-ICE chemotherapy treatment on Tuesday or Wednesday. Three of the four drugs were new to Dad. Each round of treatment was done in-hospital at the UofM over 4 days with a 2 - 3 week break at home for recovery in-between each round.

In order to qualify for an Autologous  BMT (using his own STEM cells instead of someone else's bone marrow, which eliminates the risk of rejection), he must prove the cancer is chemo-sensitive. He had 2 - 4 rounds of chemo to establish this. Ideally, over 50% of the cancer will be eliminated before starting the transplant process. He also needed to pass a 'work-up week' of stress tests post-chemo to establish healthy heart, lung, liver and kidney function. This required an extensive team of doctors working with us throughout chemo to ensure the maintenance and optimization of all those crucial organs. Once Dad passed work-up week, the Stem Cell harvest and transplant process began. But first, the R-ICE chemo. 

We started this Caring Bridge site as Dad began the R-ICE chemo regime at the UofM late 2018. The journal posts share all the details of that process and then moving down to Rochester for the stem cell transplant.

In short, the transplant was successful and Dad was in complete remission by the summer of 2019. He experienced some on going side effects from that process but got back to life in Norwood Young America.

In the two years that followed there were many highs and lows.

Some of the big highs were Rachel and Chris getting engaged in July of 2020 and Patrick and Shaoyuan getting married in June 2020. The reception was small and out at my parents. It was a lovely day with family and friends to celebrate the beginning of their life and commitment to each other.

One of the lows obvious was the pandemic. That brought so many challenges for everyone. We were so grateful for our health during that time.

By spring of 2021 something was amiss again. This is where the journal entries start again on this site. We found out that Dad’s cancer was back. While this was devastating, we were counting our blessings that it was discovered earlier and there was a new treatment option available: Car T cell therapy.

We continue to do our best to take it one day at a time and love and support him in the ways he needs us to and try not to be too much of a bother... We will use this site to keep all our family and friends updated. Please be patient with us and know we appreciate all the prayers and offers of support and help. There will come a time when we may need to take you up on some of the help or favors. We are comforted by the love and support shown to my Dad and our family. 

I would be remiss not to mention, that throughout this entire journey, the most important element of any of the successes and victories we've had, or the comfort we've felt in the setbacks  and struggles - even beyond the incredible power of advancing science and medicine we've witnessed over the past 30 years - was what we always heard from Dad: "Keep the Faith." He is a living example of that mantra, everyday. Never losing faith, staying positive, never complaining and staying strong. God has walked through this journey with my Dad and with our family so far, and we know He is still with us. We are so thankful for the time we've had together and trust that we have lots of time ahead of us. Please keep us in your prayers and check back here often for updates. 

As the wise Spock would say, "Live long and prosper."