A Dangerous Connection: Ryan's Fight Against Burkitt's Lymphoma and AIDS, Part II

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This two-part article was written exclusively for LymphomaInfo.net by Laura Kopp, whose brother, Ryan, is battling both Burkitt's lymphoma and AIDS. The diagnoses were a shock to Ryan and his family, and treatment has been a dangerous, complicated road. In this article, Laura writes about her brother’s experience and shares what they have learned from it and want others to know.

Click here to read part I

After two weeks at the Ohio State University James Cancer Center in Columbus, Ohio, we finally received the final diagnosis of Burkitt's lymphoma. To our shock, this "AIDS defining cancer" is a result of the attack of the uncontrolled HIV virus allowing healthy cells to rapidly and aggressively reproduce.

Battling Lymphoma and AIDS

As one of the most aggressive types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, this cancer spread rapidly throughout Ryan's body. It is thought that the cancer developed approximately two months before Ryan's diagnosis. Within this time, the cancer had spread from Ryan's skull to his bones, stomach and liver.

The next decision was how to treat the AIDS and cancer simultaneously. An individual with AIDS has an already compromised immune system, so undergoing the recommended treatment of aggressive chemotherapy only further destroys the immune system.

Finding the Right Treatment

Ryan began the HAART(Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy) regimen immediately to begin fighting the HIV virus and rebuild his immune system, thus slowing the growth of the cancer. Simultaneously, he began aggressive chemotherapy, including intrathecal Methotrexate (i.e., through the spinal canal) to more effectively battle the cancer in his skull.

We are now four months post-diagnosis, and Ryan has had two of four rounds of chemotherapy. His treatment was delayed in May when he developed a septic MRSA infection in his blood. He was hospitalized for two weeks in intensive care. This was due to the fact that his nonexistent immune system cannot fight off the common cold, let alone such a virulent strain of staph such as MRSA.

A Bump in the Road

Ryan's medical team made the difficult decision to discontinue chemotherapy until he could finish six weeks of at home IV antibiotics. This was a calculated risk given the aggressive nature of the cancer. But we always knew this would be a gambling game. We had to be prepared to weight the best odds against each other in the treatment of these co-occurring issues.

In mid-August, Ryan completed his six weeks of antibiotics and was scheduled to resume his chemotherapy treatment; however, his white blood cell count continues to be dangerously low with no explanation as to why. We continue to wait for answers while praying the cancer is as patient as we are.

Knowledge Builds Hope

Like many, I was completely unaware that certain types of cancers can be "caused" by or linked to HIV/AIDS status. According to www.cancer.gov, individuals diagnosed with HIV are up to 70 times more likely to be diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and predictors include low CD4 count (less than 200), non-cancer AIDS diagnosis, and lack of HAART treatment.

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