Sunday, January 03, 2016

The greatest gift of the season

First of all, I'm a few days late wishing you a happy 2016, everyone! But with over 360 days to go in the year, it still feels right to offer you joyous felicitations for the weeks and months ahead anyway. 

Despite my better intentions, I haven't written to this list since October. I thought at the time that I would be sending updates every so often about my progress through treatment for my Hodgkin's Lymphoma relapse that was detected by my doctors earlier in the fall. But here we are, several months later, and this is the one and only update on that subject that you'll be getting from me.

It's the only report you'll get ― I'm thrilled to say ― because I've made it through my treatment much more quickly than expected. Just about two weeks ago, my oncologist told me that I am officially in remission and that he does not see a need for me to continue with chemo or radiation therapy. In the spirit of spreading good tidings of great joy, as one does during the holidays, it feels quite apropos to share this news with you. This reprieve is after all the greatest gift I could have hoped for this season.

However, in the vernacular of cancer treatment remission is not equivalent to cure. As good as this news sounds at first, it comes with a caveat. From the moment the relapse had been detected, my doctors were completely confident that they would get me back into remission fairly quickly. As predicted, it took just about three months. The unexpected part is that this is where we will stop. We're ending this episode in my lymphoma chronicles ahead of schedule.

Beyond remission, the doctors' treatment plan for me included an additional three month process in the form of a full bone marrow transplant. This is how we would have gotten from remission to cure. Bone marrow transplants are done with very high dose chemotherapy, and sometimes with whole body radiotherapy. In the three months of treatment I had during the fall, I had both of these procedures already, just at lower doses. The higher dose therapies would have required me to be hospitalized to provide a highly controlled sterile environment so that they could completely kill off my lymph tissues (where the Hodgkin's cells "lived"). The doses would be high enough to also kill off my bone marrow where all the body's red blood cells are created.

In effect, by killing off all these cells at once, they would have annihilated the entire environment where any remaining Hodgkin's cells could possibly be hiding. It's a scorched earth strategy, and thus so effective I could be declared cancer-free with nearly 100% certainty.

The clincher here is that I did not, and shall not be going through this more rigorous round of therapy ― even though this leaves open the possibility that there may still be Hodgkin's cells left in my body. In remission, I may still have cancer, but just so little of it that it's "undetectable." I am going to be healthy and unaffected by cancer for many years to come. But we are much less certain (statistically speaking) whether I might have another relapse one day down the road.

Now, I have not taken the time to explain all this to you just to dwell on a negative hypothetical. I'm not living in fear of another relapse, nor do I want you to. I just wanted you to have a more clear understanding of my reality. I am deeply at peace with the facts I just spelled out. I'm still celebrating my good news to the fullest. And just as I said at the beginning of this update, I'm writing to spread this joyous celebration just a little further and farther afield into the year anyway.

 So please join me in taking a breath of relief and let's share in the gift of this moment. Enjoy! And may you carry with you the same gratitude I feel in my heart, for at least some moment every day of this coming year.

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