Los Angeles man was told that he was super-healthy, but a second opinion discovered he had Lymphoma
A cancer sufferer once informed the founder of the Lymphoma Research Foundation (LRF) that “the lymphoma community is not a club that anyone wants to join.” However, once you do, you discover a community of giving and compassionate people.”
“I believe Chris is the perfect example of this,” she continued.
She is referring to Chris Gorelik, a lymphoma survivor and LRF ambassador from Los Angeles who is 54 years old. His narrative is one of overcoming adversity, including two misdiagnoses, and using the life cards he’s been handed to assist others in similar circumstances.
Initial Diagnosis of Chris Gorelik
In late 2009, Chris, who was in his early forties at the time, began to sleep excessively.
“At the time, I was a single parent raising two young children,” he told SurvivorNet in a recent interview, adding that he had lost his wife roughly five years prior. His two children, a daughter and a boy, are currently 24 and 21 years old.
“We were really coasting,” he continued. “I had help in the house, but I began sleeping nine, eleven, fourteen, sixteen, and even eighteen hours every day.”
“You begin to wonder, ‘Am I insane?'”
However, Chris was not insane. He was ailing. At the time, however, specialists were unable to identify the cause.
The physician felt Chris was despondent. Antidepressants and vitamin B-12 were prescribed to Chris in the hope that he would stop sleeping so much. Chris’s actual disease was not discovered until he underwent a physical.
Chris explained, “When I eventually got a physical and my calcium levels were at beta levels, they brought me to the emergency room where they discovered a tumor on my kidney.”
The Value of Obtaining a Second Opinion
A young doctor at the emergency room of a hospital near Chris’s house in the Los Angeles suburbs informed Chris that he had cancer when he visited the hospital for treatment of his health concerns. In an interview with SurvivorNet, Chris was unable to recollect the sort of cancer the doctor said he had, although he stated that it was not lymphoma.
The “tough” kidney tumor was the size of a football. Chris stated that the young doctor was “so certain” about the type of cancer it was that he did not want to perform a biopsy and risk transmitting cancer cells to other parts of his body; he wanted to go with surgical removal.
Chris was skeptical, so he sought a second opinion at the University of Southern California. The USC physician performed a biopsy on the patient’s tumor and determined that it was lymphoma.
Chris was diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), which is the most common kind of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) in the United States and internationally, accounting for approximately 22% of newly-diagnosed cases of B-cell NHL. Each year, more than 18,000 people are diagnosed with DLBCL.
Chris recounted, “When he told me what I had, I was honestly like, ‘That’s amazing!'” “I was actually rather pleased about it… because I was ecstatic that they recognized it. Now we could easily have it.”
In 2010, a few months following the onset of his symptoms, he began R-CHOP, a combination medication regimen used to treat B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Dr. Adrienne Phillips, a medical oncologist at Weill Cornell Medicine, recently told SurvivorNet, “R-CHOP has been the standard treatment for aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphomas of the B-cell subtype for many years.” R-CHOP remains the mainstay of care for aggressive B-cell lymphomas, despite ongoing trials that seek to improve upon it by adding or deleting drugs to improve results or reduce toxicity.
The abbreviation stands for:
R — Rituximab (This is a monoclonal antibody that binds to a specific protein on the surface of B cells called CD20. It targets and eliminates malignant cells.)
Cyclophosphamide — C (A type of chemotherapy drug.)
H — Doxorubicin Hydrochloride (Hydroxydaunomycin) (A type of chemotherapy drug.)
O — Vincristine Sulfate (Oncovin) (A type of chemotherapy drug.)
P — Prednisone (A steroid that lowers inflammation.)
Dr. Phillips emphasized that the mechanism through which each specific R-CHOP medication decreases tumors is quite sophisticated. “These B-cell lymphoma cells that should have been designed to die are not dying for whatever reason. Therefore, the R-CHOP combination promotes apoptosis, often known as programmed cell death.
She went on to say that “at the cellular level, each medicine in the combination functions differently, but studies have shown that R-CHOP is the most effective combination for aggressive B-cell lymphomas.”
Chris described R-CHOP as “very easy to take.” He was declared to be in remission once the lymphoma was no longer detected in his body, having completed the prescribed treatment. Chris continued to see his physician every few months to evaluate his condition and ensure that his cancer did not return.
Nevertheless, when Chris experienced lower back pain, he visited an acupuncturist.
“And one day while I was on the table, my face collapsed,” he explained.
He was brought to the hospital under the assumption that he had suffered a stroke, but was instead diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, a sudden weakening of the facial muscles on one side. It was the same hospital that initially misdiagnosed him.
He never imagined lymphoma could return.
Chris stated, “I’m telling you this because it’s crucial to have an advocate at this time since you’re not thinking straight.” It never occurred to me to check in with my oncologists.
Chris discovered in 2011 that he did not have Bell’s palsy; his sudden facial paralysis was a symptom of primary central nervous system lymphoma, which happens when malignant (cancerous) lymphocytes grow.
“I wasn’t as pleased with this diagnosis as I was with the previous because it was a relapse… It appeared that the initial treatment was ineffective. “I didn’t enjoy how that made me feel,” Chris stated.
Be assertive and your own advocate… Never Settle
Chris stated that he prefers to believe that he has been diagnosed with a second primary lymphoma rather than a recurrence of his DLBCL since, in his perspective, a recurrence would indicate that his initial treatment strategy was unsuccessful.
“Psychologically, I want to believe it was a primary, because if it was, it means the first (lymphoma) was gone and the treatment was successful,” he explained. Therefore, my choice to say that was primarily psychological.
Chris reached out to a buddy with a link to the LRF for assistance as he learnt of his CNS diagnosis. In addition, due to his friend’s advocacy, he will shortly go to San Francisco to receive methotrexate (chemotherapy) treatment for his CNS lymphoma.
After completing methotrexate treatment at the end of 2012, Chris underwent a bone marrow transplant and has been cancer-free ever since.
“A common misperception is that the transplant is painful,” added Chris. “The transplant itself is completely painless. This is what they must do to you in order for you to require a bone marrow transplant. That’s the difficult part.”
Lymphoma is an immune system malignancy that affects the infection-fighting cells known as lymphocytes. And there are about 40 distinct lymphoma subtypes. Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is one of these forms.
Dr. Elise Chong, a medical oncologist at Penn Medicine, previously told SurvivorNet, “Lymphoma is divided into a lot of different groups.”
What Type of Lymphoma Do You Suffer From? Why Your Type Is Important
“The first dividing line, if you will, is non-Hodgkin lymphoma vs Hodgkin lymphoma,” she continued. “These are two distinct classifications. However, non-Hodgkin lymphoma accounts for the vast majority of lymphomas, whereas Hodgkin lymphoma is a single kind of lymphoma.”
Reed-Sternberg cells are unusual, large cells found in Hodgkin lymphoma. Your doctor will be able to tell which of the two types of lymphoma you have based on the presence of these cells, which are visible under a microscope.
There are some further significant distinctions between non-Hodgkin lymphoma and Hodgkin lymphoma. First, non-Hodgkin lymphoma is far more prevalent. And the likelihood of being diagnosed increases after age 55. Typically, Hodgkin lymphoma affects younger individuals.
B-lymphocytes are affected by the aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma known as diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. According to the Lymphatic Research Foundation (LRF), lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell, and B-cells are lymphocytes that produce antibodies to combat infections and are an essential component of the lymphatic system.
Notably, non-Hodgkin lymphoma is more likely to spread randomly and be discovered in diverse groups of lymph nodes in the body, whereas Hodgkin lymphoma is more likely to travel uniformly from one group of lymph nodes straight to another.
These two forms of lymphoma act, spread, and respond to treatment differently; therefore, it is essential that you determine which type you have.
How the Lymphoma Research Foundation May Be of Service
Chris believes that having an advocate is crucial, as is obtaining a second opinion, given that he has been misdiagnosed twice.
Chris stated frankly, “Not seeking a second opinion is ridiculous.” “In my opinion, you should have someone validate the initial diagnosis.”
Chris’s message resonates with many cancer fighters and survivors, but he has a specific message for those fighting lymphoma: contact the LRF.
Chris stated, “I did not anticipate my involvement with the LRF to reach the level that it did.” “The LRF significantly altered my cancer experience. I mean, it drastically altered my life because I had no one to bounce ideas off of, and this was before Uber existed. I was unable to drive myself and I was alone. What do you do?”
Chris said that the LRF is “remarkable.” When was the last time you phoned the helpline and received actual assistance?
He stated, “I contacted the helpline and the LRF answered on the first ring.” Then I discovered what more they could do and that I could contact them if I was just confused about something… you could truly receive assistance.
The leadership of the LRF has the same admiration for Chris as he does for the organization.
Gutierrez told SurvivorNet, “I’m always amazed at how Chris and the other ambassadors take a moment of significant challenge in their lives — and I’m sure a time and situation that was very frightening for them and their loved one — and try to turn it into a positive experience and positively impact the lives of others who come after them.”
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