Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma
Bruce's Story

My husband, Bruce, was diagnosed with non-hodgkin's lymphoma in February 1986. He was 34 years old at the time, and we had three young children.

A cancer of the lymph system, non-hodgkin's lymphoma is now the second most rapidly increasing cancer in the United States. Since the early 1970's, the incidence rate for non-hodgkin's lymphoma has nearly doubled. Unfortunately, the mortality rate for it has also increased.

There are at least 30 different types of non-hodgkin's lymphoma. The type Bruce has is now commonly referred to as "follicular small-cleaved cell non-hodgkin's lymphoma" but, when Bruce was first diagnosed, it was usually called "nodular poorly-differentiated non-hodgkin's lymphoma". It's an indolent, low grade non-hodgkin's lymphoma. These types of non-hodgkin's lymphoma usually grow slowly and are initially responsive to chemotherapy. However, they almost always return and are generally considered incurable.

There are four stages of non-hodgkin's lymphoma, with stage 4 having the most widespread involvement. This is the stage Bruce was at when he was diagnosed. He had enlarged lymph nodes on both sides - neck, groin, and underarms. He had high bone marrow involvement, and CT scans showed that he had masses of enlarged nodes throughout his chest and abdomen. Both his liver and spleen were enlarged.

Shortly after Bruce was diagnosed, one specialist told us that he could die within a month and, at most, he probably only had 2 years. A different specialist told us that because Bruce's disease was so advanced, a remission was "Impossible!". He said he had never seen anyone with lymph nodes as large as Bruce's were in his chest, that was still alive.

After a brief period of "Watch & Wait" (a normal first treatment for low grade non-hodgkin's lymphoma), Bruce started chemotherapy (chemo). In March 1987, to his doctors amazement and disbelief, Bruce suddenly went into a complete remission. That remission lasted for almost 7 years!

When Bruce relapsed in November 1993, he still had predominately follicular small-cleaved cell non-hodgkin's lymphoma, but more large cells were mixed in than previously, and he also had some diffuse cells. After a brief period of "Watch & Wait", Bruce started chemotherapy. He went through almost continuous treatments for four years!

In the late winter of 96/97, Bruce wasn't expected to live to see the spring of '97. I could literally see the lymph nodes in his neck growing by the hour! A large mass of enlarged lymph nodes under his arm made it impossible for him to put his arm by his side. Enlarged lymph nodes inside his upper legs made walking difficult for him. His enlarged spleen, and the enlarged lymph nodes in his abdomen, caused him discomfort. CT scans showed that masses of enlarged lymph nodes were encircling his heart, lungs, and esophagus, and were threatening to kill him. True to his character, Bruce rarely complained though. When someone would ask how he was doing, he'd smile and say he was fine.

During the summer of 1997, Bruce was hospitalized with life-threateningly low blood counts. Everything was low - his white blood count (WBC), his red blood count (RBC), and his platelets. The most worrisome thing though, was his neutrophil count. Under 500 is considered serious, and under 200 is considered life-threatening. Bruce's neutrophil count was two (2)! Bruce's doctor refers to that time as being, "a bone marrow transplant, without the benefit of receiving new bone marrow". Even when Bruce was finally released from the hospital, his neutrophil count was still under 200!

Despite Neupogen shots (to boost the WBC) and Procrit shots (to boost the RBC), Bruce's blood counts would plummet every time he had chemo, and they were painstakingly slow to recover. He had many transfusions! Finally, in the fall of 1997, all chemo was stopped because the doctors were scared it would kill Bruce before the cancer did.

The week before Christmas, Bruce's lymph nodes were still growing. During the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve however, they suddenly and unexpectedly disappeared! On January 2, 1998, Bruce was declared to be in a spontaneous complete remission.

August 19, 2000, 14 years and 6 months after he was diagnosed, Bruce relapsed for the second time. You can follow the updates on his condition since that time, by clicking on the "Recent Updates" link.

Recent Updates | Photo Gallery | Message for Bruce

May 19, 2001 Photos

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