For follicular lymphoma survivor, clinical trial and laughter are the best medicines

When it comes to facing cancer, follicular lymphoma survivor Michael Baker says laughter is the best medicine.

Well, actually lenalidomide. And also rituximab.

But laughter is right up there, too.  

It worked for him and it’s the first thing he tells current patients when they ask for advice through myCancerConnection, MD Anderson’s one-on-one cancer support community for patients, caregivers and survivors.

“Look at this disease right between the eyes and laugh at it,” Michael says. “Tell it, ‘Scary as you are, I’m stronger.’”

A B-cell lymphoma diagnosis

Michael was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin’s B-cell lymphoma, in 2009. He’s has been cancer-free for more than seven years.

He first noticed a lump on his neck in the spring of 2009, but he ignored it for several months.

When it began hurting while he was exercising that fall, he decided to see a doctor. He had the lump biopsied and was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma.

Michael’s aunt told him he needed to go to MD Anderson, but it was almost a non-starter.

“I live in DFW (Dallas-Forth Worth). If I have to drive to Houston once a week for chemo, I’m not doing it,” Michael recalls saying.

But his aunt convinced him to make the trip, telling him about MD Anderson’s cutting-edge clinical trial offerings.

Michael had initial lab work done at his first appointment and met with Nathan Fowler, M.D., who told him he was eligible for a clinical trial.

The clinical trial tested the efficacy of lenalidomide in the treatment of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Lenalidomide is already the first-line treatment for multiple myeloma, and has shown promise in the treatment of several other diseases. In fact, MD Anderson presently has many clinical trials involving lenalidomide.

Michael was relieved to learn his treatment would not include chemotherapy, just a lenalidomide pill for his immune system once a day for six cycles of three weeks on, one week off and rituximab, an antibody therapy, administered through an IV at the start of each cycle.

Michael showed no evidence of disease by his fourth cycle. 

“Honestly, I’ve had colds that were worse than my cancer,” he says.

Laughter helps Michael through treatment

Michael’s treatment also included plenty of laughter, with him working jokes into even the most serious of conversations.

“Aww, does this mean I’m not going to lose weight?” he quipped to Fowler when told he would not have to undergo chemo.

Michael concedes that some people might find it offensive to make light of what are literally life and death circumstances, but he staunchly believes it’s the best way to disarm the disease and empower the patient.

While drawing Michael’s labs near the end of his treatment, his technician told him his carefree antics gave the others patients hope.

Appreciation for MD Anderson

Michael returned to MD Anderson for quarterly follow-ups during the first year following his lymphoma treatment. The next three years he came back for twice-yearly check-ups and now he visits once a year.

The thing that impressed Michael most, from his first visit to this day, was the attitude every MD Anderson employee shared.

“The amazing thing about MD Anderson is that every person I encountered was so incredibly helpful and positive and caring,” he says.

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