When I was first diagnosed with Lymphoma, I had no information about it. Lymphoma is one of the least known and least understood types of cancer. Now that I have conquered Lymphoma with God’s grace and mercy (woo hoo!), here is my attempt to demystify Lymphoma.
What is Lymphoma?
Lymphoma is a cancer of the blood and describes any cancer that develops within the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is a system of vessels and organs that run throughout the body. [picture]
The lymphatic system is an important part of the body and has 3 main functions:
– to circulate and regulate fluid levels in the body
– to absorb fats from the digestive system
– to defend the body against infection
Organs (other than lymph nodes) are also considered part of the lymphatic system and include the bone marrow, tonsils, spleen and liver.
Lymphoma is the fifth most common cancer after lung, breast, colorectal and prostrate cancers. It is, unfortunately, a cancer with rising incidence rates, particularly among young adults. In fact, it is the most common cancer for people 18 – 39 years of age. As of 2010, about 8,430 Canadians have been diagnosed with Lymphoma. More males than females tend to be diagnosed with Lymphoma. The causes of Lymphoma are largely a mystery.
Hodgkin and Non Hodgkin Lymphoma
There are two main categories of Lymphoma: Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin. Of all diagnosed lymphoma cases, 85% are non-Hodgkin. Hodgkin Lymphoma is one of the most curable forms of cancer.
The cancer I was diagnosed with was a very aggressive stage 4 non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (“NHL”).
Lymphoma can be tough to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to having the flu or a viral infection. In addition to swollen lymph nodes, other signs of Lymphoma are unexplained fever, night sweats, lack of energy, loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the chances of a good outcome.
Unbeknownst to me, I started experiencing the symptoms of Lymphoma at different times in 2011, but wasn’t diagnosed until February 2012. The night sweats came first, the unexplained weight loss started in August 2011 and I felt the a tremendous drop in energy in December 2011.
Because Lymphoma cells move through the body, surgery is not a treatment option. Chemotherapy and/or radiation are common treatment options. There are several tests to diagnose Lymphoma including, a physical exam of the lymph nodes, imaging tests (X-rays, CT scans, MRI and PET tests), blood tests and bone marrow tests.
My treatment consisted of 6 R-CHOP full-day chemotherapy treatments that took place once every three weeks for about 5 months.
The five year survival rate for non-Hodgkin Lymphoma is 69.5% (86.3% for Hodgkin lymphoma).