Musquodoboit Harbour NS
I began my journey with lymphoma during the summer of 2015. I was enjoying my usual summer activities jogging, hiking, and canoeing when quite suddenly I began having swelling in my left leg. I went to my doctor who began the process of trying to determine the cause. My doctor made a call to a cancer surgeon at the Dixon Centre in Halifax and I soon had a consult and physical exam. I clearly remember the words of the oncologist on that September day. He said, “I am not a betting man, but if I were, I would say you have cancer”.
I already had some inclination that such news was likely, but it was still a shock. I was scheduled for a CT scan which identified a tumor in my lower back. My diagnosis was non-Hodgkin diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.
Over the next few years, I went on to have R-CHOP chemotherapy, radiation, R-GDP chemotherapy, "mini - BEAM" chemotherapy, a clinical trial with TAK-659 from Takeda Pharmaceuticals and CAR T-cell therapy.
I distinctly recall my wife and I attending an LLSC forum in Halifax following my initial treatments. At that powerful presentation one of the cancer survivors told us not to rule out taking part in a clinical trial, if it became available as a treatment. Little did I know that a clinical trial, followed by CAR T-Cell therapy, would become my best option in my own cancer journey.
My CAR T-Cell therapy took place in Boston at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute between June and December 2019. My collected T-cells were shipped to California where they were successfully engineered into CAR-T cells.
As the treatment was completed, my wife and I returned to Halifax with the news that my cancer was not in remission.
My Boston oncologist had told us that I might still reach remission, but not to pin all my hopes on it. Follow-up scans were scheduled for early March back in Halifax and just as the COVID pandemic was declared, I received miraculous news: I had achieved "complete metabolic response". In other words, no active cancer.
The CAR T- cell therapy in Boston was successful and I am still in remission. My gratitude is overflowing for the support of the medical community as well as our Department of Health and Wellness for providing resources for the medical part of the Boston chapter of my journey.
So, what have I learned?
Like most people, my cancer journey has been difficult, but much of that journey has been rewarding and enriching.
When I was first diagnosed in 2015, I was overwhelmed by the number of people who contacted me by text and email that it became difficult to keep up with their questions. I set up a blog about my journey and asked that people go there for information. The act of writing daily allowed me to reflect on so many things that were important to me, much of which was less about my physical well-being and more about strengthening my spiritual and mental well-being. I had found a wonderful tool to reflect about life, what is important and of enduring value.
I realize that the greatest value in life is found in relationships. I have been overwhelmed by the generosity, kindness, and love of so many people and for that I have immense gratitude.
I can’t overstate the support I have received from the LLSC. We have received support and encouragement every step of the way. From warm greetings by LLSC caring staff members to the support of varied resources such as webinars and Zoom sessions, printed materials, or survivors on the other end of a phone connection. LLSC has offered us so much! In short, we have gained wonderful friends in the blood cancer community because of LLSC.
Light the Night plays a huge role raising awareness about blood cancers and providing funds for research and patient/caregiver support. I will never forget our first Light the Night walk in 2016. The gold, red and white lanterns had a powerful impact because of what the colours represent. We walked in silence past the Victoria General and IWK hospitals and looked up at blood cancer patients in active treatment, who were waving their white lanterns. How incredibly powerful. I reflected on the young lives at the IWK who struggle with blood cancers and the adults who were dealing with their own cancers in the VG. And in my own treatment, I later found out what it was like to look out that large window of the 8th floor VG common room.
I have learned so much from my cancer journey, and I am grateful. Light the Night has helped brighten my blood cancer journey. Perhaps this is my mantra – “live in the moment, focus on gratitude for the goodness of life and find joy in each day”.
Thank you to my wife, family, friends, professionals and the LLSC for helping me find meaning in life and joy in each day.