The PET Scan – Good News

From the biopsy last week, I learned that the little red mark on my head is, indeed, the return of my Follicular B-cell Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It had been in remission for 16 years. But now it’s back. Yesterday (Dec 14), I underwent a PET scan. Now, a PET scan has nothing to do with dogs, cats, or gerbils. It is a type of scan similar to an MRI or CT scan (aka “cat scan”). It just uses a different technology. The purpose of the PET scan was to try to determine where else, in my body, this cancer is living, so they did a full-body scan. The whole process took about 90 minutes.

A few hours later (same day!) I met with my oncologist (the awesome Dr. Deborah Stevens at the Huntsman Cancer Center) to get the results. The good news from the scan is that it appears that my cancer is limited to that tiny little spot on my head! Praise God!! We caught it early! Thank you to all of you who were praying for me! Your prayers worked.

The next discussion with Dr. Stephens was about how we want to get rid of this cancer.

The first option offered up was radiation because the affected area is so small. It would get rid of it quickly. However, I’m not comfortable with anybody pointing a radioactive device at my frontal lobe. I’ve finally succeeded at getting the number of my brain cells down to a manageable level; I don’t have many left to spare. (Sometimes I need to use both of them!). Besides, the cancer is not causing me any discomfort. It doesn’t hurt; it doesn’t itch; and it is a slow-growing form of cancer. We don’t have the sense of urgency that we’d have with a more aggressive, fast-growing form of cancer. We have time. That is another blessing!

The next option on the table is to use the same medication I used last time – Rituxin – which put it into remission for 16 years. It worked so well last time that we have every expectation that it will work well again. I would need to have only one infusion, once a week, for four weeks. Then we’d wait a month and do another PET scan. However, Rituxin has a side effect that didn’t matter as much 16 years ago. It attacks B-cells.

A little immunology side trip

Lymphoma Is a disease of the lymphatic system which includes lymph nodes which make these things called lymphocytes. There are two types of lymphocytes: T-cells and B-cells. The role of the B-cells is to identify to the immune system which cells/germs need to be killed. Ever see a tree on the side of the road with a ribbon on it to indicate “this tree needs to be cut down”? Your B-cells are the ones that put the ribbon on germs and cancer cells. .

Since Rituxin attacks B-cells, there is nobody flagging germs that that need to be killed. The net effect is that, for 6 months after taking Rituxin, any vaccines taken during that time will be rendered useless. Unfortunately, that includes Covid vaccines.

I don’t know when I’ll be eligible to get a Covid vaccine. The folks at Huntsman Cancer Center are hoping that all of their patients will fall under that “pre-existing/underlying health conditions” category that will allow us to get them a little earlier.

Dr. Stephens and I ultimately agreed that this would be a good plan: Wait. Wait until the middle of March. By then, we are hoping we’ll have a better idea of when I’m able to get a Covid vaccine. The covid vaccine is actually a process that takes about 6 weeks: 1 shot, wait 3 weeks for the body to process it, get a 2nd shot, wait another 3 weeks). Then, we’ll start going after the lymphoma. (maybe another scan). Best case scenario is that would be mid-June.

Now, if this little red spot starts growing or changing a lot between now and March, I’ll notify my doctor and we’ll have to figure out Plan “B”. But we don’t expect it to grow much in that time. After the 4 weeks of Rituxin treatment, we’ll wait another month and then do another scan to make sure it really is all gone.

So, even though it might be be July or August before I’m all done with this, I think that this is all good news! Like I said in my last post, there really is not much that I can do about this. It really is in God’s hands. If it grows or not — that’s His will. If I get a covid shot early — not inside my hula-hoop.

What’s Next?

We wait. We hope that the covid vaccine is effective and is made available quickly. Ultimately, the best course of action is to continue trusting that God loves me; know He has a plan for me; and believe that His plan is for me to be successful. The best way I know to do that is to make a concerted, daily effort to stay in communication with Him: read my bible, pray, listen.

I believe that He will reveal His plan for me, and whatever that ends up being, I’m planning to go with it. His plan has gotta be better than any plan you or I could come up with, am I right? That’s just one of the perks of being omniscient.

I hope that you will join me in this. I really do appreciate the prayers you’ve already said for me. I appreciate any other prayers you might offer up on my behalf – no matter how short or infrequent. Who knows? God may reveal His plan for me through you. It’s not unheard of. God used Daniel to reveal His plan for someone else (Daniel 2). So spend some time with Him today. And be sure to tell Him, “Dick Donohue says, ‘Hey God, Thanks again!'”

I will continue to post updates here as things progress. Thank you for reading.