What to Know About Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
- Baseball star Liam Hendriks, 34, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
- He finished treatment and got to ring the victory bell, giggling with happiness as he did.
- Lymphoma is a cancer of your immune system.
- Some non-Hodgkin lymphomas grow faster and need different therapy than others.
- R-CHOP is a drug cocktail consisting of chemotherapy drugs, plus an antibody drug and a steroid to treat diffuse large B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
- Radiation therapy may also benefit non-Hodgkin lymphoma patients at several stages of the disease.
Chicago White Sox pitcher, 34-year-old Liam Hendriks, reached a milestone accomplishment he’d been hoping for since last year, but it had nothing to do with baseball. He got to ring the victory bell after completing treatments for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.
Hendriks giggled with happiness as he sounded the legendary bell.Read More
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“You never think you will be the one who hears ‘you have cancer’ but there I was…in shock and fear not knowing what comes next,” the baseball star said.
The cancer survivor is in his 12th year of his professional baseball career with Major League Baseball. He started playing for the White Sox in 2021, but his battle cancer battle has been among his toughest challenge to date.
Although Hendriks may be a major baseball star, like all cancer warriors, he had to cope with the realities of a shocking cancer diagnosis. SurvivorNet experts recommend not blaming yourself for the disease and instead beginning your cancer journey by asking lots of questions and learning everything you can about the disease. The added knowledge helps ease anxieties.
It’s also helpful to seek second or even third opinions from doctors about your diagnosis in case the first doctor overlooked something.
Finally, turning to supportive loved ones in and outside of your household is an important component to successfully navigating your cancer journey.
More on Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma
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- ‘My Last Chemo Is Done!’: Country Music Star Ashley Monroe, 35, Completes Chemotherapy; Understanding Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and Treatment Options for the Disease
- All About Biopsies to Diagnose Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma
Lymphoma is a cancer of your immune system. It starts in the lymphatic system, a network of vessels, ducts, and nodes that runs throughout your body. This system drains excess fluid and waste from your tissues and drains them into your bloodstream. It also produces disease-fighting white blood cells called lymphocytes that defend your body against infections.
Lymphoma starts when lymphocytes develop a genetic mutation that makes them multiply much faster than usual. The mutation also makes older cells that would normally die stay alive. The quickly multiplying lymphocytes start to collect and build up in your lymph nodes, the small glands in your neck, armpits, and other parts of your body.
“In the beginning of a conversation with a patient, we have to talk about exactly which type of lymphoma they have,” Dr. Lawrence Piro told SurvivorNet.
“There are some lymphomas which are very treatable, but not curable,” Dr. Piro added.
“On the contrary, there’s some lymphomas that, if you don’t treat them, they’ll progress rapidly, and you may succumb to it, yet there’s very intensive treatments that you can take that may cure you,” he adds. Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, the most common type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, is an example of an aggressive but treatable cancer.
The first differentiator is whether you have Hodgkin or non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Hodgkin lymphoma has distinctive, giant cells called Reed-Sternberg cells. The presence of these cells, which can be seen under a microscope, will help your doctor determine which of the two lymphoma types you have.
Another difference is that non-Hodgkin lymphoma is more likely to spread in a random fashion and be found in different groups of lymph nodes in the body, while Hodgkin lymphoma is more likely to grow in a uniform way from one group of lymph nodes directly to another.
Common Symptoms and Risk Factors for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
A few non-Hodgkin lymphoma risk factors include:
- Age. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma usually starts in people who are in their 60s and older, although it’s possible for younger people to get diagnosed. Hodgkin lymphoma, on the other hand, is more common in younger people.
- Gender. Most types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma are slightly more likely to affect men than women.
- Race and ethnicity. In the United States, this cancer is more common in white people than in Black or Asian Americans.
- Family history. Having a close family member with non-Hodgkin lymphoma — a parent, brother or sister, or child — could make you more likely to develop it, too.
There are no screening tests for lymphomas and symptoms can be hard to identify so doctors typically perform a biopsy on a lymph node to accurately determine if non-Hodgkin lymphoma exist. However, some common symptoms for non-Hodgkin lymphoma include:
- Swollen glands
- Night sweats
- Weight loss
How Is Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Treated?
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma treatment depends on the type of lymphoma, the stage and how fast it is growing. People with aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma can expect to get a chemotherapy combination called R-CHOP, which is a drug cocktail consisting of chemotherapy drugs, plus an antibody drug and a steroid to treat diffuse large B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Patients receiving R-Chop receive the drug in six cycles that are three weeks apart.
“R-CHOP is a cocktail of drugs. There are five different drugs in that recipe,” Dr. Jennifer Crombie, medical oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, tells SurvivorNet.
R-CHOP side effects can include:
- Tiredness and weakness
- Hair loss
- Mouth sores
- Bruising and bleeding
- Increased risk of infection
- Appetite loss and weight loss
- Changes in bowel movements
WATCH: Doctors can treat some slow-growing forms of non-Hodgkin lymphoma with radiation therapy nicknamed “boom-boom.”
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can also be treated with radiation. Patients receiving external beam radiation do not become radioactive during or after their treatment. They may, however, experience side effects that include:
- Red or blistered skin
“The largest group of patients we think about [recommending radiation therapy for] are diffuse large B-cell lymphoma patients.” Dr. Chelsea Pinnix, radiation oncologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center told SurvivorNet.
Dr. Pinnix went on to say, the radiation may enhance treatment after chemotherapy cycles are completed.
As for Hendriks’ treatment, he was counting down the days until his PET scans revealed the cancer was in remission.
“Every 28 days, I would have another round. Every 28 days, I got closer to the PET scan that would dictate how many more rounds there would be. Every 28 days, I got closer to this moment,” he said leading up to ringing the victory bell.
A special message from Liam Hendriks: pic.twitter.com/kSE1bjBkZD
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) April 3, 2023
The Power of Support for Cancer Warriors
After ringing the victory bell following his last cancer treatment, Hendriks thanked his supportive wife for accompanying him during his cancer journey.
“To my wife: You came to every single appointment. You held my hand every step of the way. You were my voice of confidence and always made sure I felt loved and safe throughout it all. I love you,” he said.
The all-star pitcher’s absence from the field rallied support from fans and colleagues as well.
“Your support kept me going. You kept me in the right frame of mind to beat this,” Hendriks said.
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It’s important for cancer warriors to know they have a strong support group behind them. It helps them alleviate anxiety and depression as cancer treatments become more intense over time.
Dr. Shelly Tworoger, a researcher at Moffitt Cancer Center told SurvivorNet that “there’s a number of common things cancer patients can experience, such as anxiety, depression, financial toxicity, social isolation.” Knowing you have loved ones by your side at every step and help you process those emotions and cope with your new reality during your journey
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