Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma side effects are a small price to pay for life

I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s diffuse B-cell lymphoma on Aug. 14, 2015, and since then, I have undergone three rounds of chemotherapy, 22 radiation treatments and an autologous stem cell transplant. Today, I show no evidence of disease, but the side effects from my treatment were and still are challenging. I’ve had everything from nausea, neuropathy and hair loss to chemobrain and hearing problems. Mitigating side effects through dosage adjustments Hearing loss was probably the most alarming side effect from my B-cell lymphoma treatment. It happened while I was undergoing my first round of a chemotherapy — a combination of drugs called R-DHAP (rituximab, dexamethasone, cytarabine and cisplatin). One of the drugs (cisplatin) is known to cause hearing loss sometimes, so when I had a ringing in my ears, Jason Westin, M.D., gave me a hearing test. The results came back normal, but the test did show slight hearing loss in the higher frequency range, so Dr. Westin lowered my cisplatin dose by 20% before I started the second round of chemotherapy. Simple solutions worked best before my autologous stem cell transplant While hearing loss was the most alarming side effect, the worst side effect I experienced was mucositis — painful inflammation in your gastrointestinal tract. That happened right before my autologous stem cell transplant, after I’d done one more round of chemotherapy before my stem cells were harvested. Every day for five days, my temperature spiked to 102 and then dropped down again. The nurses couldn’t do anything about it other than give me ice packs. I put them everywhere: under my arms, around my neck, between my legs...

No stomach, no problem! Gastrectomy patient another step ahead after marathon

Marne Shafer thought her running days were behind her after she received a total gastrectomy, a surgical removal of the stomach and nearby lymph nodes. She braced herself for the worst. At age 33, the mother of two and experienced marathoner, learned she has a CDH1 gene mutation, which is associated with high-risk of a rare type of stomach cancer called hereditary diffuse gastric cancer, as well as lobular breast cancer. Marne came to MD Anderson for genetic testing after several family members passed away from stomach cancer, including her father, grandmother and aunt. Since screening isn’t successful in identifying the disease in its early stages, the recommended treatment plan was for Marne to undergo the prophylactic total gastrectomy. But the surgery revealed she already had stage I cancer, which was removed during the procedure. “It seems counterintuitive to feel in full health and then go out and get your stomach removed,” she says. “People ask, ‘how are you still alive?’” Life without a stomach While she had a feeding tube for nearly two months and worked hard to get enough nutrients post-surgery, Marne credits her quick recovery to the expert care provided by her surgeon, Paul Mansfield, M.D., in addition to her history of running. “I thought I was supposed to still feel horrible two weeks after my surgery. I didn’t have a lot of strength, but I didn’t think I would feel that much better,” she says. “At the end of the day, Dr. Mansfield is just awesome. He is very personable in addition to being one of the best doctors in the world. He is extremely...

Surviving HPV-related tonsil cancer twice

While I was shaving one morning in 2012, I noticed a large lump under my jaw. I immediately made an appointment to see an ear, nose and throat specialist, who told me that it was just a benign cyst.  Over the next year, I went back for two additional exams. By November 2013, a nurse finally suggested a CT scan and an additional biopsy of the tissue under my jaw. Bingo! They discovered the lump was from cancer that metastasized from my left tonsil. The cancer was caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). At that point, I quickly assembled a list of referrals, talked to my doctor friends and made follow-up appointments near my home in Memphis, Tennessee. I knew I wanted to get the best care in the country for my specific cancer. Phone call after phone call led me to MD Anderson. My tonsil cancer treatment at MD Anderson Within 24 hours of calling MD Anderson, I had scheduled an appointment and arranged to travel to Houston from Memphis, Tennessee. I first met with my MD Anderson oncologist, Merrill Kies, M.D., and radiologist, William Morrison, M.D., in December 2013. They confirmed that I had stage IV HPV-16 tonsil cancer, and I started chemotherapy about two weeks later. I had eight weeks of chemotherapy as part of a clinical trial, followed by six weeks of daily radiation therapy plus weekly chemo. I managed to make it through this period, but was terribly sick and had a great deal of pain and sensitivity, as well vocal cord paralysis that forever changed my voice. In June 2014, I was declared...

How a testicular cancer diagnosis changed my life

Before I had testicular cancer, I was a really cynical person. I looked at the glass as half-empty. And I saw everything in life as just a struggle to get through. I’m not going to say that everything has a purpose now, but even the terrible things in our lives can be used for good. And looking back, I can see that a lot of good things did come out of having testicular cancer. After I was diagnosed, I learned how to be grateful: for the small things and the big things, the bad things and the good things. And I think I am a more positive person now because of what I went through. Choosing to live after my testicular cancer diagnosis My testicular cancer journey started in late 2013, when I was 23. I had just come back from an extended trip to Taiwan. The plan was to finish my last semester at the University of Houston, where I was studying business. But a few months after I arrived home, I noticed a lump on my left testicle. I had a fever, too. Immediately, my mind jumped to cancer, but I dismissed it as paranoia. Then I wondered, could this be the mumps? So, I went to my doctor. He didn’t think the lump was related to the fever. And he wanted me to have an ultrasound. The test was kind of awkward, but it didn’t last very long. I got a call early the next morning. I needed to follow up with a urologist. I tried not to worry. I met with that doctor a few...

Your stem cell transplant consultation: Questions to ask

Your doctor may recommend that you undergo a stem cell transplant if you’ve been diagnosed with a blood cancer, such as leukemia, lymphoma or multiple myeloma, or a bone marrow failure syndrome like myelodysplastic syndrome or aplastic anemia. A stem cell transplant replaces blood cells that have been damaged by cancer and chemotherapy with healthy cells. Before you move forward with a stem cell transplant, you’ll need to consult with a transplant doctor. We talked with Borje S. Andersson, M.D., Ph.D., about the best questions to ask to ensure that you feel comfortable with your treatment plan. What type of stem cell transplant are you recommending for me? There are several types of stem cell transplants, and the type you receive will help determine what’s needed from you prior to the transfusion as well as what to expect with your recovery. All stem cell transplants fall into two categories: autologous stem cell transplants, which use the patient’s own cells, and allogenic stem cell transplants, which use cells from a donor. How will you find a donor for me? We look through your family first: siblings, parents and children. Come prepared to discuss their medical histories. Mention things like cancer, heart problems, heavy smoking — anything that’s an alternative lifestyle. If a related donor isn’t a possibility, there are other options, such as an umbilical cord blood transplant or finding an unrelated donor through Be The Match®, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program®. Will I need other types of treatment? A stem cell transplant is part of a treatment plan. Before the transplant, you’ll receive chemotherapy to kill the...