Rick Lawson, Marysville, Washington
Rick Lawson was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in 1995 at age 34. It’s not the kind of leukemia that adults often get, so it was pretty shocking when he learned what it was.
“In 1994, I began getting a lot of colds that quickly turned into flu and fatigue,” Rick recalls. “It seemed like I was going to the doctor every other month. I was working toward my green belt in karate at the time and I became fatigued easily and then my muscles started to burn during workouts.”
Rick made yet an appointment to see a doctor, but one thing lead to another and by April, Rick passed out in a doctor’s office with anemia and a terrible nose bleed. He was admitted to the hospital was finally diagnosed with ALL. He didn’t return home for a month.
After a month of intravenous and oral chemotherapy to put his ALL into remission, Rick continued chemotherapy treatment off and on for another two and a half years and received radiation treatment as well.
Brain Tumor Diagnosis
According to a study published in Pediatric Neurosurgery (2007), long-term survivors of ALL who received radiotherapy are at risk for late complications, including radiation-induced meningioma.
Ten years after Rick was diagnosed with ALL, on August 5, 2005, he was diagnosed with a baseball-sized meningioma, a tumor that grows from the meninges that covers the brain and spinal cord. He was 45 years old at the time and believes the radiation he received for his ALL was responsible for his meningioma.
Usually a slow-growing cancer, surgery is most often the treatment for meningioma, however radiation therapy can also be used.
Dr. Robert Rostomily, a neurosurgeon at UW Medical Center, removed as much of the tumor from Rick’s brain as possible in a 17-hour surgery. But he wasn’t able to remove everything.
Afterward, Rick had some rehabilitation to do. He had to learn to write again, and his memory continues to have holes.
“I had an MRI every three months for the first year,” Rick says. With no sign of tumor re-growth, his MRIs were reduced to once every six months the next year. By January 2007 however, slight re-growth seemed to be showing up and by spring, Rick was having trouble with his vision.
In October 2007, Dr. Rostomily performed another surgery to remove the new tumor from Rick’s brain and for the next year, Rick received chemotherapy until enrolling in a clinical study – the PTK 787 Trial [http://staff.washington.edu/stonesk/] for recurrent meningioma.
On this study, Rick took an oral medication twice a day. The point of the trial was to prevent any further growth of the tumor. The medication stops the tumor’s blood supply, essentially starving the tumor so it can no longer grow. Unfortunately, after just a couple of months on the study, Rick experienced side effects and his medical oncologist, Dr. Marc Chamberlain decided to look for other treatment and discontinue Rick on the study.
In March 2009, it was determined the best course of action was for Rick to have radiation treatment. Under the guidance of Dr. Jason Rockhill and Dr. Rostomily, Rick received radiation treatment for 26 days.
“In my MRI in May (2009), Dr. Rockhill thought he detected a little shrinkage, which could possibly be dead tumor tissue,” Rick says. He had another MRI in August which showed zero tumor growth -- great news for Rick and his family.
Life is certainly different for Rick now. He can no longer participate in martial arts—it’s just too tiring for him. And it’s difficult to concentrate while reading or even watching television. He lost his sense of taste after the radiation treatment, but believes it will return. And from time to time he struggles with balance and vision problems.
Throughout treatment for leukemia and now a brain tumor, Rick is eternally grateful to all of his friends and family who have been very supportive, “especially my daughter and my sister,” Rick says. “But my wife is my hero. She stands strong beside me through everything and what happens every day because of it.”
Brain Tumor Support Group
Rick is an active participant the Brain Tumor Support Group at UW Medical Center.
This group provides the opportunity to share experiences and to socialize with others in similar situations. A brain tumor patient/facilitator assists the group, provides information, and along with the members, answers questions regarding their experience with treatments, medications, available resources, and other important issues. Guest speakers covering a variety of subjects are frequent participants. This group meets the first Wednesday of each month, from 5:30 to 7:30 pm in UWMC Plaza Café rooms A&B.