Learning About Lymphoma
- Jonathan Sams is a three-time cancer survivor who just finished his chemotherapy treatments for an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. And to inspire others to have purpose in their lives and believe in themselves, he marked the last day of his treatment by walking a full marathon within the hospitals walls while attached to his chemotherapy IV stand.
- Early symptoms of lymphoma can be tricky to notice as they may include swollen lymph nodes, fatigue or unexplained weight loss.
- More research is needed on the effects of exercise during cancer treatment, but some experts say being in good shape during a cancer battle is beneficial.
Sams was first diagnosed with cancer when he was just 14 years old. This time, he had stage three nodular sclerosis Hodgkin lymphoma – a rare cancer, but the most common type of Hodgkin lymphoma. After a year of treatments including surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy, Sams went into remission.Read More
Fast forward to this year, and Sams was hit with yet another cancer diagnosis. This time, it was Burkitt lymphoma – an aggressive form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“I had been having nagging health indicators since late winter. Maybe earlier,” he wrote. “Nothing that I could really put my finger on, but still recognizable. I couldn’t run as far. I had aches… You know, non-descript nothings.”
Things got progressively worse when Sams started having trouble digesting his food, but he still “felt great” when he wasn’t eating. Still, he knew he should see a doctor so he scheduled appointments. But after a string of two nights feeling “terrible” while away for business, Sams knew to act swiftly and wen to an emergency room.
“I had an intestinal intussusception. This means that my small intestine was slipping into my large intestine,” he wrote. “That was why I didn’t feel well when I ate. The intestines were choked off. An intussusception will flat out kill you if it isn’t fixed.
Normally, there is a lot of movement in the intestines. However, in my case, the small intestine was being held inside the large intestine by a tumor that was in my large intestine.”
After a couple procedures that included removing almost 5 inches of his large intestine, a tumor was sent to pathology.
“For those who are keeping track at home, I now have 1) no spleen, 2) no appendix, 3) no gallbladder, and 4) am now missing 12.5cm of my large intestine. I have very efficient insides,” he joked in the post. “After lots more tests, procedures and surgeries over the next couple of weeks, I saw the oncologist. My diagnosis wasn’t absolutely confirmed at the time (though it is now…Burkitt Lymphoma), but because it is an aggressive cancer, he wanted to move on it quickly.”
From there, Sams began further treatment that included chemotherapy and outpatient therapy with the monoclonal antibody treatment rituximab.
A ‘Marathon of Purpose’
Thankfully, Sams is doing well and just finished his last chemotherapy treatment. But the fit father made sure to mark the accomplishment in a meaningful way with the “Marathon of Purpose.”
“During my last treatment cycle, I intend to walk an entire marathon while in the hospital. I am…without creativity…calling it a ‘Marathon of Purpose,'” he explained prior to the walk in a Facebook post. “I didn’t want to call it something like a “’Miracle Marathon,’ because I don’t want to seem like anyone special. We all have our marathons to run. They aren’t miracles. Our marathons are mundane and difficult. But they are important.”
Sams then went on to explain that this walk was mean to “encourage others to pursue purpose in their lives” because people so often set unnecessary limitations on themselves.
“So, here is the point…if I can walk a full marathon, while in the hospital, after 6 treatment cycles, while taking chemotherapy, while pulling an IV stand, after being physically weakened, with only half of the normal oxygen going to my muscles and brain due to significantly reduced hemoglobin, what can you do?” he wrote. “I have confidence in you. I believe that you are important. I believe that you have great things to do in life.
“I believe that you are the people of God and that you cannot be defeated. I believe that you, yourself, have been fearfully and wonderfully made and that you have purpose. What can we not accomplish together? What can we not accomplish in the hand of God? With God all things are possible. Matthew 19:26.”
He then called on his Facebook friends to join him in his walk if they were able.
“If you would like to join me, wherever you are, walk a mile. Or walk 5 miles. Or walk a full marathon. Or, if you can’t walk, choose another way to join me,” he wrote. “Let’s walk together. Afterward, let’s remember who we are and pursue God’s purpose in our lives together. I am grateful for and to each of you.”
People did, in fact, join in and send photos or even meet him at the hospital to walk for a bit. And sure enough, Sams walked the entire marathon within those hospital halls.
“You know I walked a marathon in a day. Each one of you, you walk a marathon every day of your lives. And, I want you to make those lives worthwhile and I don’t want you to be afraid,” Sams told WLWT5. “Whatever the obstacle, I want you to overcome it. I believe in you.”
Lymphoma, in general, is a type of blood cancer. Blood cancers can affect the bone marrow, blood cells, lymph nodes and other parts of the lymphatic system. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society reports that every 3 minutes, one person in the U.S. is diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma.
More specifically, lymphoma is a cancer of the immune system that begins in the white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphoma begins when lymphocytes develop a genetic mutation that makes them multiply much faster than normal.
This mutation also forces older cells that would normally die to stay alive. From there, the quickly multiplying lymphocytes collect and build up in your lymph nodes, the small glands in your neck, armpits and other parts of your body.
There are more than 40 different types of the disease, but Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma are the main two sub-categories with the latter being much more common. The type of white blood cells linked to the disease determines the distinction. If doctors are unable to detect the Reed-Sternberg cell – a giant cell derived from B lymphocytes – then it is categorized as Non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
You might be at a higher risk for this disease if you:
- Have been infected with the HIV or Epstein-Barr virus
- Had an organ transplant
- Have a family history of lymphoma
- Have been treated with radiation or chemotherapy drugs for cancer in the past
- Have an autoimmune disease
Signs of Lymphoma
One thing to note about lymphomas is that this type of cancer often creeps in quietly, without symptoms. And even when symptoms do show up, they don’t necessarily point directly to cancer.
In a previous interview, Dr. Elise Chong, a medical oncologist at Penn Medicine, explained that lymphoma symptoms could be difficult to detect.
“The symptoms of lymphoma, especially if you have a low-grade lymphoma, often are no symptoms,” Dr. Chong explained. “People say, but I feel completely fine, and that’s very normal.”
People with lymphoma do not always have symptoms, but common ones are:
- Swollen glands in your neck, armpit or groin
- Night sweats
- Unexplained weight loss
- Feeling tired
- Swelling in your stomach
No matter what, it’s important to communicate anything unusual happening to your body with your doctor. Even if you think there’s nothing to worry about, it’s good to rule out the possibility of more serious issues.
Exercise and Cancer
Some cancer treatment side effects can potentially be mitigated by exercise. In fact, MD Anderson Cancer Center says it’s important to keep exercise during cancer treatment “in most cases.”
Carol Harrison, a senior exercise physiologist from the cancer center, believes “exercise has the potential to help reduce some of the fatigue experienced during and after treatment, especially if you’re undergoing radiation therapy.”
And SurvivorNet experts have also commented on the benefits of exercise. Dr. Sairah Ahmed, associate professor in the Division of Cancer Medicine at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, wants the SurvivorNet community to know that being in good shape during your cancer battle is very beneficial.
“I think that, in terms of cancer, oftentimes patients feel that they don’t have any control over any part of their life, and that’s not true,” Ahmed told SurvivorNet in an earlier interview. “The more physically fit you are going through your cancer treatment, the less side effects you’ll have and the faster you’ll get back to your normal quality of life.”
According to the National Cancer Institute, physical activity is beneficial for cancer survivors. The NCI cited findings from a report of the 2018 American College of Sports Medicine International Multidisciplinary Roundtable on physical activity and cancer prevention and control in saying that exercise is generally good for cancer survivors. The roundtable also found:
- Strong evidence that moderate-intensity aerobic training and/or resistance exercise during and after cancer treatment can reduce anxiety, depressive symptoms and fatigue and improve health-related quality of life and physical function.
- Strong evidence that exercise training is safe in persons who have or might develop breast-cancer-related lymphedema.
- Some evidence that exercise is beneficial for bone health and sleep quality.
- Insufficient evidence that physical activity can help prevent cardiotoxicity or chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy or improve cognitive function, falls, nausea, pain, sexual function or treatment tolerance.