My husband was diagnosed with Lymphoma

Wednesday 20 July, 2011 by Liz

My husband Geoff was diagnosed with lymphoma 9 years ago. The doctors said it was diagnosed early and therefore he had a good chance of beating the disease. Geoff underwent a course of chemotherapy and the results looked good. However, 12 months later it was back. The oncologist said that now we could be fairly sure that the disease was here to stay and that lymphoma would keep returning, and the length of time between ‘recovery’ would be less and less.

Geoff underwent another round of chemotherapy with good results once again but, once again, within about 12 months, it was back. Another round of chemo was being arranged when it was discovered Geoff had kidney cancer. Following lots of testing, it could be seen that it had spread into the main artery to the heart so an operation was arranged with a urologist and a vascular surgeon to remove the kidney and part of the artery. During the operation they found that Geoff also had appendix cancer, quite unrelated to kidney cancer and lymphoma.

They called in a bowel surgeon who found that Geoff also had cancer attaching to the bowel. Part of the bowel was removed. We thought we had lost Geoff that night - bleeding couldn't be stopped and Geoff's own blood was recycled as the blood set aside for the operation had been used. The operation that was supposed to have taken about 4 hours took 9 and a half hours - it was very crowded in the operating theatre!

Geoff pulled through once again but by now the lymphoma was extremely aggressive. It had to be put off while the kidney cancer was dealt with. A few months later, when Geoff's wounds had healed, more chemo was arranged. By that time Geoff was quite unwell. The chemo helped but Geoff didn't recover as well as previously.

The next year the oncologist said there was another chemo cocktail he could try - he didn't know how successful it would be and Geoff may feel bad following the treatment. Geoff was desperate and wanted to try anything. Only half way through and the treatment was obviously not working. Also during this time Geoff suffered blood clots on the lung and was quite ill for some time.

Next we tried a treatment known as ‘hot Mabthera’. Mabthera had been used on Geoff in the early days with good results so we were excited that this new treatment may give us more time. Geoff's body had an extremely bad reaction to the ‘hot Mabthera’ and he nearly died - again.

The oncologists said there was only one thing left they could suggest. It was stem cell replacement. They didn't even know if Geoff would be able to donate enough stem cells but, again, we were desperate and went ahead. It was gruelling and it took 8 days but eventually Geoff had donated enough stem cells to proceed. The worst part was yet to come. Geoff underwent ‘high dose chemo’ which kills just about everything, good and bad, in the blood. Then the stem cells are replaced and hopefully those cells will reproduce, the cancer having taken a beating after the ‘high dose chemo’.

It was not successful and Geoff never truly recovered from this treatment although he did pick up somewhat, enough to play 9 holes of golf in a golf cart occasionally. What golden days those were! How we enjoyed what time was left.

Things seemed to be going along quite well when Geoff got what appeared to be an ear infection. It took a week to find out that it was Ramsay Hunt syndrome, a form of shingles in the ear and throat. Geoff described the pain like ‘a lightning bolt in his head’. He was admitted to hospital to try to get the pain under control but no luck.

Geoff was so drugged while they tried everything - he couldn't walk or feed himself. We found a clinic where they managed such things as extreme pain, inability to eat following illness and lots of other things relating to people who had suffered major illness.

Geoff underwent treatment with a drug known in social circles as ‘Special K’ and miracle of miracles, the pain subsided. Geoff remained on a lot of drugs to try to manage all the things wrong in his body. Life was bearable for him - just.

A couple of months after this; Geoff started suffering pain around his middle. He was admitted to hospital to try to find out what was causing it. It turned out his remaining kidney was failing and once again we were told there was nothing that could be done. Geoff was moved into palliative care where he received the best of care for the remaining five days of his life. I stayed in the room with him and I'm so glad I did. The nurses looked after me too. Geoff woke up a few times but mostly ‘slept’.

It was a long journey and Geoff and I became very close. It's been a year and half but it feels like yesterday. I remember everything so clearly - all the ‘other’ illnesses that can occur when you are so ill - several lots of blood clots requiring Geoff to inject himself twice daily with blood thinners, edema in his legs causing them to swell to almost bursting and in fact they actually ‘leaked’ fluid causing a lot of discomfort. Geoff was in despair so many times and I will never forget how much it hurt to see him going through this and knowing that, after all, he was dying.

Throughout all, all the hospitals, doctors, nurses, and the Leukemia Foundation who helped with transport, were absolutely wonderful.

I still hurt but we became indescribably close.

Geoff's brother died from cancer at the age of 50 and Geoff's mum now has cancer (a different type again). Her husband also died from cancer. We're trying to help her – as she doesn't have much family now. It's hard to watch - it brings back so many ugly memories.

Updated: 20 Jul, 2011