Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Survivor
|Roger Sweet, Lake Stevens, Washington|
The epitome of organization, Roger was a professional product and graphics designer and engineer during his career days working on general consumer product design and later for Mattel Toys. At Mattel, part of his job was to invent the next toy craze for kids around the world. And he did it all from designing fashion accessories for Barbie® to originating and naming the He-Man® character, and originating the general concept of the Masters of the Universe® male action figure line.
“I was never into fantasy, but methodologically took advantage what was going on at the time and what the market needed,” Roger says. “He-Man was so different from me physically that he was very appealing to me.”
Diagnosis & Treatment
In August 1999, Roger found a lump on his throat, which his doctor removed. A biopsy revealed it was lymphoma.
“Everybody has some fear of cancer, and I got the news and thought it (the cancer) might kill me,” Roger says. “But, I looked over my life and if it was my time, then I had no regrets.”
But it wasn’t “Roger’s time” just yet and he the remaining months of 1999 he received chemotherapy in a hospital not far from his home. His cancer went into remission but returned eight months later. Roger’s doctor told him the current treatment wasn’t going to work for him, and he referred Roger to UW Medical Center and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, where he began preparations for an autologous stem cell transplant.
“I was the ninth person treated on the stem cell transplant protocol at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance,” Roger says.
For many patients with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, the standard treatments can do more harm than good — a frustration that led scientists in the Clinical Research Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to search for a better way. Their findings, (published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology), hold promise for future therapies.
Non-Hodgkins lymphoma can strike at any age but most often occurs in older people in their 60s. Once in remission though, it often returns.
"Unfortunately, most people will relapse after their primary therapy, and most therapies in the past for patients with relapsed lymphoma have been targeted to younger adults," said lead author Dr. Ajay Gopal, the medical oncologist at SCCA who cared for Roger.
Physicians are reluctant to use the standard treatments of stem cell or bone marrow transplantation on older adults, believing it's too toxic. “That basically excludes half of the patients that have this diagnosis," Gopal said.
Working with radioactively tagged monoclonal antibodies, y-shaped proteins that can be created to bind to a certain specific substance — in this case, tumors — physicians like Dr. Gopal are able to deliver very high doses of radiation to tumor sites, sparing the surrounding organs. Total-body irradiation or high-dose chemotherapy targets healthy cells as well as tumor cells, so researchers believe the targeted approach to be a safer and more effective treatment for older people.
Under the care of Dr. Gopal, Roger checked in at UW Medical Center on April 6, 2001 where he received radioactively tagged monoclonal antibodies and high-dose radiation to kill the cancer cells. He remained in isolation at the medical center until April 18 and received his stem cell transplant on April 23. He was finally released from UW Medical Center on May 10.
“I am a healthy person with a wonderful personality,” Roger says matter-of-factly. “Cancer changed my life. I work out more now because, for me, it could be a matter of life and death.”
Roger says he’s been into fitness his entire life. “When I was 13, I was 4 feet 11.75 inches tall and weighed 88 pounds, and the girls bullied me!” But then in the next year he gained 17 pounds and grew to 5-feet 10-inches tall. “Still very skinny,” he says. Concerned about his “scrawniness, Roger started doing pushups and other exercises like weight lifting and pole vaulting to develop his body.
“Cancer was an experience that fascinated me,” Roger says. “It took a while to recuperate, but I managed to work out 45 minutes a day during my treatment recovery period at UW Medical Center.”
Seemingly a success in tackling his cancer as he was in his career, Roger says, “I’ve really never been proud of what I do. I do it because it is enjoyable and part of the game of life.”
Roger’s advice for a long life: “It’s extremely important to eat a healthy diet and not become overweight. Also, don’t use abusive substances, like smoking, drinking and drugs that ruin the body and affect your mind. Exercise regularly and concentrate on it. In addition, get bad situations out of your life. Further, as you get older, find things that you like doing a lot, and dig in and do them, especially if you’ve had a serious disease. Make all of that a top priority in your life. The reason is that you can have all of the material wealth in the world, but if you don’t have your health, nothing else counts.”