Zach G was in the prime of his life when he received the shocking diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. At age 22, he had the year previously graduated from college and married the love of his life. They relocated to a new area, away from family, to begin exciting careers and a life together. They were settling into this storybook tale with their puppy, Rocket, when their journey took a very unexpected turn. Here is how the story unfolded in Zach’s words:
I first thought something was wrong while on a cross-country road trip in May. We had stopped in Las Vegas and were at a hockey game, and a fly landed on my neck. As I swatted it away, I felt an odd bump.
When I got home three or four days later, I contacted my primary care physician. He saw me immediately and had no idea what was wrong. He ordered a blood test, which looked normal, so he sent me on to a local ENT in case something was wrong. The ENT ordered an MRI, where we discovered I had three enlarged lymph nodes in my neck. We scheduled a surgery for July 7th to get some tissue samples.
The surgery was a little tougher than anticipated, but they were able to remove the two smaller lymph nodes. Up to this point, cancer had been mentioned as a worst-case scenario, but not a likely scenario. Three days after my surgery, we went back to the ENT office and he delivered the news: they found atypical cells consistent with lymphoma. He was sending the tissue samples on to Emory for a closer look, but more than likely I had cancer. I asked for a trashcan to throw up into.
I had to wait a couple of weeks before an oncologist was able to see me. My wife and mom both came to the appointment with me, where they gave us the results from Emory: classic Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. That Thursday I had surgery to put a port in, and over the next two weeks went through a bone marrow biopsy, full body PET scans, and other baseline-providing tests. On August 13th, I was told I was only in stage IIA, the best-case scenario based on what we knew walking in. I started chemo immediately.
My whole life, I’ve heard stories about people with similar experiences — family, friends, church members, parents at school – but all were over the ages of 40 or 50. I was only 22 years old when that fly landed on my neck. I mean, my wife would love it if I ate some more vegetables, but I spent my entire high school athletic career running cross country and track. In college I played basketball and lifted weights everyday. I’ve never smoked anything before! I’ve done a really good job of taking care of my body, yet right after my 23rd birthday, I got diagnosed with lymphoma.
The scariest thing to me is the only symptom I had was the enlarged lymph nodes. If that fly hadn’t landed on my neck, I might not have noticed for another month. I felt completely normal, right until I started chemotherapy. Cancer can happen to anyone, at any time. Listen to your body. If something seems wrong, go get checked out.
Here is what you need to know about Leukemia and Lymphoma. Both are cancers. (Related: What is cancer?) Leukemia is a cancer of the blood-forming tissues, including bone marrow and the lymphatic system. A person with leukemia makes abnormal white blood cells. The leukemia cells don’t die when they should and may crowd out healthy blood cells. Leukemia is the most common cancer in children younger than 15 years. However, childhood leukemia is a rare disease. There are many types of leukemia, but the most common in children is acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), which affects lymphoid cells and grows quickly.
Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymph or immune system. You’ve probably heard of the two types: Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Lymphoma is the most common cancer for people under 30. An estimated 8,500 people (4,840 men and 3,660 women) in the United States will be diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma each year. About 74,680 people (41,730 males and 32,950 females) will be diagnosed with NHL.
Both leukemia and lymphoma can occur in adults and children. The symptoms are often mistaken for other things.
Symptoms – Leukemia
- Fever or chills
- Persistent fatigue, weakness
- Frequent or severe infections
- Losing weight without trying
- Swollen lymph nodes, enlarged liver or spleen
- Easy bleeding or bruising
- Recurrent nosebleeds
- Tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae)
- Excessive sweating, especially at night
- Bone pain or tenderness
Symptoms – Lymphoma
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, or groin
- Unexplained weight loss that occurs swiftly without dieting
- Heavy sweating, especially at night
- More about lymphoma.
Treatments for any cancer vary depending on the stage and type of cancer, your age, and your overall health. However, treatments for these two cancers may include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, antibody therapy, biological therapy, and/or stem cell transplants.
People with no family history and no risk factors may get lymphoma or leukemia. However, you are at higher risk if these factors affect you:
- Previous cancer treatment
- Genetic disorders
- Exposure to certain chemicals, such as benzene
- Family history
- Autoimmune diseases or a weakened immune system
- Previous infection of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV)/mononucleosis
Our team at Generations Family Practice wants to keep you and your family healthy. If you or your child have the symptoms listed above, contact your doctor immediately. The sooner we discover any health issues, the easier it is to treat them.