THE BLOG
07/18/2013 05:15 pm ET | Updated Sep 17, 2013

Unremarkable

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I am usually perfectly capable of holding a conversation via my Bluetooth connection while driving my car. Almost three years ago, I received a phone call from a close relative that caused me to pull over to the side of the road to give the call my absolute attention. My brother in NY had just been diagnosed with stage 3 Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and he was calling to give me the news. He had gone to the dermatologist to check out what he thought was an ingrown hair in his thigh. The biopsy returned a diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. We were all shocked, but confident that it would be treatable.

It was mid-December and not a good time to be sick, as everyone was about to leave on vacation. Since his first contact had been with a dermatologist, he had to choose and schedule an appointment with an oncologist. The choice of an oncologist and a hospital in which he would be treated was an important one and required quick research. My brother is an attorney and is very, very thorough. He had to make a decision, get an appointment with an oncologist to discuss treatments and begin them. He started by making phone calls to friends, family and professionals who might have information and followed that up with Internet searches. As he learned, the doctor's attitude and the atmosphere of the treatment facility contribute greatly to the success of the treatment. He made a decision and was fortunate to get an appointment at the beginning of the New Year with the doctor he chose.

Although a considerable drive from his suburban home, it was decided that he would undergo treatment at St. Luke's Hospital in New York. The chemo treatment that was prescribed was called CHOPS (an acronym for the chemicals used). Many people with my brother's diagnosis respond well to this treatment. We never expected it to be easy -- and it wasn't. It is well-known that the chemo treatment itself is debilitating. Chemo was administered for a full day at intervals of several weeks and midway through the treatment period, a CT scan was performed. The good news was that the original tumors were shrinking. he bad news was that new tumors had appeared.

Everyone responds differently and for my brother, the CHOPS treatment wasn't working. To deal with this, the doctor decided to change the chemo cocktail and this required elongating the treatments from one day to three in a row, and extending the time period during which it was administered by a few weeks. After having undergone a series of treatments already, this news was not met with joy as every treatment was difficult and now he had to endure longer and more prolonged treatments. Although I wanted to be with him I was on the West Coast caring for my husband who had suffered a stroke just months before. Besides, my brother has a loving wife and children to support him.

My brother and I share the same set of parents and we also enjoy a large extended nuclear family with many half siblings. We all asked the question: What do we do if the chemo doesn't work? We were told that stem cell replacement would be the next option. All of our siblings were advised to be tested for compatibility.

For six months we followed his treatments and I flew to New York to meet him on the day of his final treatment CT scan. He was wearing a baseball cap to cover his bald head and he was noticeably fuller elsewhere. He claimed he was the only cancer patient to have gained weight -- although we know he is not unique in that area.

It is now 2 /12 years after his initial cancer diagnosis. His hair has grown back and this week, he got back the CT scan reports from the radiologist. He wrote to me "the images are "unremarkable," which is good news. I don't usually like being called unremarkable, but in this instance that's fine by me."

It is fine by me too! In fact, it's wonderful!
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