Saturday, February 20, 2010

February 20, 2010 - The Senator Joins the Club

News bulletins yesterday focused on one of our U.S. Senators from New Jersey, Frank Lautenberg, who’s just been diagnosed with cancer and will undergo chemotherapy.

Some of the early news stories about the Senator’s condition were shockingly inaccurate. Even the venerable New York Times got it wrong, saying Lautenberg has “stomach cancer.” A subsequent article corrects the error.

What the Senator actually has is the same thing I’ve got: non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The sub-type is diffuse large B-cell – which also happens to be the same aggressive form of the disease for which I was treated in early 2006. The indolent lymphoma I now have is small B-cell.

There’s a world of difference between stomach cancer and a lymphoma that manifests itself in or near the stomach. Subsequent news reports do seem to be getting it right, though.

I wonder if Senator Lautenberg will be receiving R-CHOP chemotherapy, as I did. One of the articles speaks about 6 treatments, 3 weeks apart, which certainly does sound similar.

An article in the Newark Star-Ledger quotes Roger Strair, director of Hematology, Oncology and Internal Medicine at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, who observes that lymphoma is “an unfortunate consequence of the body's need to make hundreds of millions of immune cells every day.” Sometimes, he explains, those cells are “copied" incorrectly.

“It’s not because of or the fault of what people ate or drank, or the way they live their lives, or electrical lines in the backyard,'' Strair said.

That’s because NHL is largely a genetic disease. Most often it strikes randomly, without regard to family history.

The article includes a general prognosis for all forms of NHL, provided by Dr. Aaron Chevisky, chief of surgical oncology and co-director of the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Morristown Memorial Hospital: “The survival rate after one year is 80 percent; after five years, it's 65 percent after five years and 54 percent after 10 years.” That’s pretty good news. With the generally favorable prognosis for B-cell NHL and the wealth of effective treatments out there, I have a good chance of living with the disease a very long time. Which, of course, is better than dying from it.

I feel for Senator Lautenberg and his family, as he continues treatment and – as I presume he will – experiences side effects like hair loss. Right now, I expect he’s in he midst of the whirlwind. The papers do say he plans to continue in the Senate, though – showing up for debates and votes as he is able. That will surely be a tough road for an 86-year old.

With the Demo- crats’ health care bill balanced on a razor- thin majority, Senator Lautenberg’s presence and the Senate floor will be very much needed. I hope he won't have to rush over for any votes during one of the bad weeks out of the 3-week cycle.

Welcome to the club, Mr. Senator: the club no one wants to join, but which a great many of us will join eventually. You’ll find there’s a lot of support and caring among other members of the cancer community.


Unknown said...

I checked in because I expected you to write about this. And I wondered at the "misspeak" about stomach cancer, after I'd already heard it was NHL. Thanks for tracking that down.
Lautenberg is also indeed critical to the passage of effective health care reform. I hope he does well with the chemo and is able to be present at key moments. What a rough path! Prayers for him and for the Senate and for the other good people of this country who won't all have access to timely excellence in treatment.

Anonymous said...

Wow! And he is ALOT older than you! I always thought that he was a good Senator for our State. I do hope that he does as well as you have. MB

Anonymous said...

What does the five year - ten year prognosis mean? Does that mean if you aren't cured during the first year - your chances go down - or does it mean that you have a greater chance of recurrence? When I hear people talk about this I get confused - especially since they talk about survival rates being so high. Thank you.