Read on for the details about Jen’s type of Cancer
Jen was diagnosed with Primary Mediastinal Large B-Cell Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, also called PMLBL. At the time of diagnosis, she had a huge, grapefruit sized (5″ x 4″ circular mass) tumor in her chest cavity, in front of her lungs but behind her ribcage.
The doctors performed a biopsy, taking two 2cm x 2cm chunks of the tumor for pathology. In this type of cancer, the tumor is not removed, but treated with chemotherapy and radiation.
The biopsy report came back (it took almost 10 days!!) with the diagnosis. At the time, the Lymphoma was determined to be at Stage 1, the earliest stage.
This type accounts for about 2% of all lymphomas. The cells are large and resemble those of diffuse large B-cell lymphomas.
This lymphoma starts in the mediastinum (the area around the heart and behind the chest bone). It usually is localized at the beginning and rarely involves the bone marrow. It can cause trouble breathing because it often presses on the windpipe (trachea) leading into the lungs. It can also block the superior vena cava (the large vein that returns blood to the heart from the arms and head). This can cause the arms and face to swell.
About 2 out of 3 people with this lymphoma are women. Most are young — in their 30s. It is a fast growing lymphoma but it is treatable.
The current treatment for the type of cancer Jen has is called RCHOP. The “R” was added in 2006, and refers to Rituxin or rituximab, a monoclonal antibody which greatly improves treatment. She started treatment on March 31, 2008, having chemo in the morning on Monday’s once every 3 weeks, for 6 cycles (18 weeks). After chemo, she’ll go through 4 weeks of targeted radiation, which will help shrink/destroy the remaining tumor, even though it may be necrotic/dead. After that, she’ll check checked out once a month or two.
The type of cancer that Jen has is the kind of cancer you want, if you have to have cancer. It was aggressive and fast growing, which is good because fast growing tumors shrink at the fast rate when subjected to treatment. There was only one tumor in Jen’s whole body, and it was caught at Stage 1, the earliest stage. All of these factors, with the additional boost that a newer bio-based drug had been added to the treatment in 2006, gave Jen a prognosis of 80-90% chance of permanent remission.
In addition, once the cancer is destroyed, if her body remains Lymphoma-free for 1 year past the day she was determined to be cancer free, her chances of permanent remission go to 99%.
Update May 2009: In March 2009, a PET scan revealed a new tumor in a lymph node just under my pericardial sac. This was removed and biopsied, confirming the relapse. Despite the mantra that NHL is the “best cancer to have, if you have cancer,” the numbers haven’t worked out that well for me. Someone has to draw the short straw. So, on to the next weapon: the autologous stem cell transplant.