I’ve discovered that if I need to tell someone about what I’m going through the best thing to lead off with is, unfortunately, “I have cancer.” I don’t want to intentionally shock people, but the fact of the matter is that if I say “I have Hodgkin’s” people generally ask “What’s that?” In fact, in telling some individuals people have asked my dad if that’s “the shaking one.” (That would be Parkinson’s). However, there’s enough well-placed curiosity that an explanation is in order.
Simply put, Hodgkin’s is a lymphoma, a kind of cancer that originates in lymphocytes, a specialized kind of white blood cell used by the body to fight infection and circulated by the lymphatic system. Lymph nodes are located throughout the body, and in the case of lymphoma they become enlarged. That’s more or less how I found my disease, but there can be other symptoms that don’t manifest themselves quite as clearly. These include fatigue (which all college students take as a fact of life), fever, night sweats, weight loss (which no one and certainly not I have noted), and itchy skin. As I said, though, when you get Hodgkin’s you don’t always get the symptoms.
If you want to know more about the technical details of Hodgkin’s, I suggest starting at Wikipedia’s article on the condition. However, here are some bullet points that should answer some major questions that I get alot (and how they pertain to me).
-Lymphoma accounts for about 5% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States each year; Hodgkin’s, 1%. At UVA, my doctor sees about 6 or 7 cases a year.
-Oddly, this kind of cancer is most prevalent in young adults (15-35) and those over 60.
-Hodgkin’s has four stages; right now, mine is at Stage II. This means that everything is above my diaphragm and that there is no involvement of the spleen. Which is good.
-For just about all stages Hodgkin’s is relatively treatable; at stage II, the cure rate is about 85-90%. However, this is the possibility of recurrence that will be an ongoing concern.
-The treatment regimen is generally chemotherapy, particularly a set of drugs known as ABVD. The possible side-effects are rather standard: hair loss, fatigue, low blood counts, and nasuea (although a new class of drugs has reduced this effect). UPDATE: After consulting with my doctor, it’s looking like this will take around six months.
-The possibility exists for radiation therapy afterwards, but it all depends on how the masses are affected by treatment.
-Just so you know, the major nodes are in my neck and my chest. The one in my chest is at 11 cm, which naturally creates some concern but hasn’t significantly affected my heart or lung functions. It could explain my indigestion, however, though my horrendous diet should not be ignored as a factor in that.