On September 25, 1989, I was your typical recently turned 18-year-old high school senior. I was planning on spending my last nine months of school captivity going to as many parties as possible, and as few classes that I could manage and still get into the college of my choice. But on September 26 all of that changed with three words: “You have lymphoma.”
Instead of hanging out with friends and chasing girls after school, the preferred pastime of teenage boys everywhere, for me for the next five months the 3:00PM bell meant a drive across town to the hospital where I was getting daily radiation therapy for Hodgkin’s disease. That was my senior year.
The Hodgkin’s Returns
After a freshman year at the University of Missouri (the college that I had worked so diligently to get into) my cancer returned in June of 1991. I knew exactly what that meant. Chemotherapy was in my future. What I didn’t know was just how bad chemo would be. I found out soon enough when I began a course of seven chemotherapy drugs: Nitrogen Mustard (the same drug used to kill people in World War I), Oncovin (also known as Vincristine), Procarbazine, Prednisone, Adriamycin, Bleomycin, and Vinblastine. This particular chemo regiment is known as MOPP-ABV. Let’s just say that I had better cocktail combinations the year before at Mizzou.
Halfway through my six months of chemotherapy I developed an allergic reaction to Bleomycin, which nearly killed me. It left my lungs a little scarred, but I finished treatment and achieved a remission again without any further brushes with the Grim Reaper.
In November of 1994, after almost three full years of being cancer free, the Hodgkin’s disease returned for a third visit. We had done radiation. Fail. We tried chemotherapy. Fail. But the brilliant minds at The City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, California had one more weapon in their arsenal: the stem cell transplant.
After a course of intense chemotherapy (as if what I’d been through previously was chemo-lite) destroyed nearly every cell in my bone marrow, the stem cells swooped in like a superhero and restarted my marrow, essentially bring me back from the brink of death. The entire process, from infusion, to isolation, to resurrection, took nearly a month. I got to do the whole month-long process three times. I was supposed to do a fourth cycle, but it was wisely called off when the chemotherapy drug Adriamycin was shown to have damaged my heart.
On July 23, 1997, more than two years removed from my stem cell transplant, and now as a college graduate with a job at Fox Sports Net, I was diagnosed with a secondary leukemia. The acute lymphocytic leukemia, which I was convinced would take my life, had been caused by the chemotherapy drug VP-16, which was given to me two years earlier during the stem cell transplant.
The doctors at City of Hope, dealing with a leukemia caused by chemotherapy in a patient who had to be treated with kid gloves because he had a weak heart, again saved the day. They came up with a course of chemotherapy, albeit three years in length (you read that right), that cured the leukemia without causing any further damage to my heart. After four bouts with two different kinds of blood cancer, I was finally free.
When I say, “finally free,” I should probably be more specific. I was finally free of cancer. The heart condition was another matter. It was continuing to deteriorate, eventually landing me on the heart transplant waiting list at UCLA in 2001. I was told that because I was average body size with O-positive blood, my wait for a heart would be five and a half years. The doctors were off by less than two months.
On October 10, 2006, at 3:45PM, I got the call from UCLA. A donor heart had been found and it was waiting for me. I was at the hospital by 5:00, entering the operating room by 8:00, and at 1:30 the following morning I was out of surgery, in the ICU, and living with a brand new strong and healthy heart.
My final hurdle had been cleared.