The Adventure Begins

On May 11th, 2012 I was diagnosed with a type of cancer called Mediastinal (Thymic) Large B-Cell Lymphoma. Here's the back story:

In February 2012 I began to develop chest pain and a pretty bad barking cough. After a few days I went to a walk-in clinic and they gave me a prescription for the antibiotic Biaxin (Clarithromycin) to go along with the diagnosis of bronchitis. PS: If you go to any walk-in clinic with a barking cough, this is what they will do. I probably had a virus, so the cough eventually subsided, but never really went away. I also began to develop a wheeze whenever I exerted myself cardiovascularly. This was really frustrating because it forced me to stop exercising. In a typical week I will do a 5 km run 3-5 times, do weight training 3 times, and when the weather is nice I will often go out on the weekend for a fast-paced 25-50 km ride on my road bike.

Near the end of March, the cough started to get worse, and began to interfere with my normal day-to-day activities. I was on my final teaching practicum as part of the UVic Bachelor of Education program, and I had to take several days off because I was unable to speak more than a few words without going into a spastic coughing fit. 
On March 25th, I went back to a walk-in clinic and told them what was happening. Thankfully the doctor took a blood-oxygen level reading, and noticing it was low, sent me for a chest x-ray. It took me a few days to get around to it, but on March 28th I went in for one. My phone rang two hours after I got home. It was the clinic telling me that I needed to come in for an urgent appointment After sitting me down and making some frustrating small-talk, the doctor told me that the x-ray results showed I had a large mass on my anterior mediastinum, most suggestive of Lymphoma. He had already sent an priority request for a chest CT scan, blood work, and an ultrasound, and had referred me to a cardiothoracic surgeon here in Victoria.
On March 30th I had my CT scan at Saanich Peninsula Hospital. The results showed a large anterior mediastinal mass, measuring 13cm x 9cm x 7cm, "most suggestive" of a germ cell tumor.
About a week after getting these results I had my first appointment with the cardiothoracic surgeon. He was really nice, and said that he had requested a CT Guided Core Needle Biopsy of the mass at Royal Jubilee Hospital. This is so that he would be able to determine exactly what was going on with the mass, such as if it was benign or malignant.
It took several weeks to get my biopsy, but on April 20th I was jabbed 7 times with a long hollow needle, and they sucked out some samples of the mass.
Eleven days later I got a call from the cardiothoracic surgeon. He was extremely apologetic, informing me that the Radiologist and Pathologist at the hospital had, for reasons unknown to him, elected to perform a Fine Needle Aspiration instead of the biopsy he had asked for, and because of this he had not gotten the results he needed. Needless to say, my parents, Kaitlin (my girlfriend) and I were extremely frustrated and angered by this, so after some swift and strongly-worded communication with the hospital, I was scheduled for another biopsy two days later, on May 4th.
I should note that during these past few weeks my cough had gotten worse, and I was becoming progressively more fatigued. I was unable to work more than 10 hours per week, and as much as I tried to get outdoors and engage in mild exercise, I actually had to spend a great deal of my time sleeping. I also developed an excruciating stomach problem during this time, which made eating and drinking extremely painful.
On Friday, May 11th, I returned to the cardiothoracic surgeon for my biopsy follow-up appointment, and was informed that I had a subtype of Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma, called Mediastinal (Thymic) Large B-Cell Lymphoma. Since then, there has been some debate as to whether I actually have the subtype, or just Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma, but that will be determined after I undergo a few more tests. 
I was referred to the BC Cancer Agency and on Thursday, May 17th, I had my first appointment with my oncologist. Sitting there with my parents and Kaitlin, being told all the details of my cancer, and treatment, was an extreme informational and emotional overload, to say the least. My type of cancer spreads quite quickly, and so the speed of which things are happening now is way faster than before, which is somewhat of a relief. I was immediately put on several drugs: 
  • Prednisone - This is a very commonly-prescribed anti-inflammatory. It will begin to break down my tumor and fight the cancer. Common side effects are hyperactivity, trouble sleeping, grumpiness, and puffy cheeks & joints. So far it's just preventing me from sleeping at night.
  • Allopurinol - This is to protect my kidneys from the cancer cell waste (uric acid) that the Prednisone creates.
  • Pantoprazole - This is for my stomach pain. Apparently I may have an ulcer.
  • Septra - This is to protect my body from a specific type of pneumonia or something.
I was also booked into the hospital on May 22nd (my birthday) for a bone marrow biopsy in the morning to see if the cancer has spread to my blood, and a gastroscopy in the afternoon to see if the cancer has spread to my stomach. I think my 27th birthday "party" is going to be the best one yet: Nothing beats having bone marrow drilled out of my hip, and then having a long tube with a camera on it shoved down my throat into my stomach! Oh well... all I can do is keep my fingers crossed that these tests will show that the cancer has not spread yet. The less it has spread, the better!
I have been scheduled to start my chemotherapy on May 25th. The kind of chemo I'm doing is called CHOP-R. Click on that link to see the exact same information booklet that I got from the BC Cancer Agency. Basically I will go in every 21 days and get hooked up to an IV line for a few hours. I will undergo six rounds of chemo over the next few months, and at the end of it I will be tested to see if the cancer is gone. If it is, the chance of it coming back is less than 10%. If it isn't gone, I will undergo more chemo, and begin radiation treatments.
Some of the common side effects of my chemotherapy are progressively worsening fatigue, full hair loss, and becoming very prone to infections. My immune system will be completely destroyed by the chemotherapy, so any sort of infection can be quite dangerous. A cold or a cut can quickly spread to my blood, so at the first sign of fever, I would have to go to the emergency room at the hospital. Scroll down to Page #3 of this CHOP-R booklet to read all about the other exciting possible side effects.

I think one of the hardest parts so far has been that my lifestyle has completely changed. As previously mentioned, I am normally an extremely active person, but have had to give most of this up. As I also mentioned, I recently finished my teaching degree at UVic. One month after I finished practicum I was hired onto the TOC list in SD62 (Sooke). Unfortunately, now I don't think I'll actually be able to do any teaching until the fall, and I was really looking forward to getting started in June!
So... that is pretty much everything up until the present time! I think this first post will probably be the longest, because so much has happened in the last couple months. From now on I will just post each time something interesting or significant happens; such as when I go for chemo, and when my hair all falls out, and that sort of thing. If you want even more details about what's happened so far, just send me a message. There's always more to say, but this post is getting just a little long.
I would like to finish off by saying that I have so far maintained a very positive outlook. I have very high hopes for beating this cancer. I am also doing my best to look forward, and get over the frustrations that it has been nearly two months since I got an x-ray that showed I have a very fast-spreading cancer, and I am only starting treatment now. I am indescribably thankful for all the support I have received from my parents, Kaitlin, family members (from both families), and friends. I am in awe at how many people have approached me to say "I know someone with cancer" or "I have cancer too" and "we are all here for you no matter what you need." Obviously this whole experience has been extremely trying, and I don't know where I would be without the support of those who care about me. I know I have some really difficult times ahead of me, and it is comforting to know that I will not be tackling them alone. 
Lastly, if you don't know why you are here reading this, please check out this page. Feel free to leave comments on my posts too... it keeps this whole thing alive and vibrant! More posts to come :)
Thanks for reading,Christopher

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