“Stage 1” never sounded so good - after two weeks that have included a trip to the ER, an emergency biopsy and 4 day stay in the hospital, scans, tests, more scans and a bazillion blood draws. We now have a full diagnosis - Rick has cancer – Stage 1B, Intermediate to High Grade (rapid growth) Diffuse Large B Cell Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The mass is 10cm x 10cm x 5cm and is wrapped around his small intestine, cutting off blood flow to his colon which makes digesting food extremely painful. Stage 1 means they caught this cancer early, but it is regarded as aggressive because of the large mass size and Rick’s fast progressing symptoms.
These two weeks have been exhausting and repeating unfamiliar medical terms we’re just learning a bit mind-numbing as we have kept our inner circle of friends and family updated. A good friend suggested that it might be easier to update family and friends via Caring Bridge so that we can have one place for people to go to get information and updates. Our understanding is that, while information has been progressing pretty fast these past couple weeks, during treatment not a lot will change so you may hear from us occasionally. When we do update, Caring Bridge will send you a message to check at your convenience.
Rick’s symptoms began in early June after he was prescribed his first ever, low dose blood pressure medication. He was told to watch for side effects that could last the first couple weeks while his body adjusted, which he began experiencing within a couple days. The one that stood out most were pains in his lower abdomen; he was also unusually fatigued and felt fuzzy in the head. To offset the pains, he began substituting early meals for protein drinks, which were much easier to digest. This continued for several weeks until he finally stopped the medicine at my urging and went back to the doctor July 14. The doctor suggested it might be an ulcer caused by the medicine and so he changed the prescription and told Rick to take Prilosec for a couple weeks until the pains subside. The 15lb. weight lost was easily explained by the protein drink meal substitute.
The fuzzy feeling went away, but the abdominal pain and fatigue persisted. To counter the pain, Rick increased the protein drinks and decreased regular meals. We also bought him a log splitter thinking that the fatigue was caused by his early work schedule and the fact that he was almost 58. The weekend of July 28 Rick was feeling better than he had in several weeks. He had his energy back and so he spent two days working around the property downing and bucking trees to be split for winter firewood. However, he woke up Sunday morning exhausted. The pains had increased so instead of another day of projects, he stayed on the couch most of the day eating a little food while drinking his protein drinks.
He went to work Monday feeling just ok, but didn’t eat all day – just more protein drinks. That night I suggested I make him a salad and burger to see if he could get something down and asked that he not wait for his follow up doctor appointment in September. I found him a while later on the floor in a ball of pain so I called 911. Several hours and tests later we were told about the large mass and that it was likely lymphoma. We were referred back to his GP for an Oncology referral. He was now down 26 lbs.
The next week was a flurry of activity that I won’t go into, but by Thursday when I had the chance to talk to the RN Navigator assigned to Rick I mentioned that he had not eaten solids since Sunday. Within an hour she had reviewed his case and identified that the tumor was cutting off blood flow to his colon, making food painful and causing potential damage. A bed was held at the hospital for him and he was admitted for an emergency biopsy. By Friday they confirmed Lymphoma and were able to start him on prednisone to reduce the inflammation. They ran more tests and by Sunday they confirmed Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and that the cancer had not spread. Lymphomas take many days to fully diagnose and so Rick was told that if he could eat solids he could go home and wait for the results. The pains had subsided with the introduction of the Prednisone so he ate a sandwich and was able to leave. That is all the information we had until yesterday. He is now down over 30 lbs.
Diffuse B Cell Large Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is the most common type of Lymphoma. It is extremely well researched and, especially in its early stages, the treatment protocol well established. Rick will have 6 sessions of chemotherapy over the next 18 weeks. The regimen is referred to as R-CHOP and includes Rituxan, Cytoxan, Adriamycin and Oncovin. This regimen typically results in hair loss and other side effects, including nausea (they have meds to help) and fatigue. His immune system will also be compromised during this treatment. Once completed around Christmas, he’ll then have a 6-8 week recovery period as these chemicals leave his body and the fatigue starts to diminish.
PH Cancer Center is networked with Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Second opinions are standard and accessible and we are pursuing those along the way to ensure we have the right plan in place.
What we need
Please pray for complete healing. Stage 1 was a huge relief yesterday, but still a journey as Rick’s body is about to be pounded with chemo. Stage 1 is actually curable – not just remission, but curable! Pray that he takes the treatment well and manages with minimal side effects. Pray for the side effects themselves, which Rick is keenly aware of and studying constantly. With a pain level of 10 in the ER, he refused all pain meds. He is also already declining a few of the minor meds in the treatment protocol. This is not pride, just concerns he has, so just pray for wisdom. Pray he does not experience secondary conditions as a result of the treatment. Tumor Lysis Syndrome is common with Lymphoma patients so he will be watched closely. Pray for a healthy colon, which will also be monitored closely during treatment. Pray that he stays healthy overall during the next 6 months as his immune system will be compromised.
We appreciate everyone’s support and offers to help. We have an amazing group around us and we are not shy about asking when needed. That’s how our friendships roll and so we have no hesitation reaching out, as we have already had to do. Feel free to decline as personal circumstances dictate and we will ask the next. We are blessed to have a really, really, really long list of wonderful friends and family.
Please feel free to text or email as they are the easiest to respond to as time permits. We’re asking that visits be limited during treatment because Rick is going to try to work as much as he can, so time off will be a combination of trying to stay active in order to better facilitate his treatments and rest because the fatigue will increase over time. As well, his immune system will be compromised so he’ll be susceptible to illness this fall and winter. Contact us first and we’ll be honest about how his day looks.
Last, it was a humbling experience as we toured the PH Cancer Center. There were so many people in the lobby and so many more in the treatment rooms taking their infusions. It reminded us that ours is just one in thousands of stories. Please remember to lift up those people along with your personal friends and family members that are also on this journey.