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Don Henderson

Leukemia

This testimonial includes a description of this patient’s actual medical results. Those results may not be typical or expected for the particular disease type described in this testimonial. You should not expect to experience these results.

View CTCA treatment results for prevalent cancers we treat

Overview

My story

I have always been diligent about having annual check-ups with my local doctor in Missoula, Montana. Several months after my annual check up, my wife noticed that I was getting jaundiced. We went to my doctor, and he monitored my blood over several months. My blood counts were never consistent, and the jaundice was getting worse, plus I was increasingly fatigued.

My doctor booked me for an endoscopy with another specialist in town. The endoscopy showed a blockage in the liver bile duct. A biopsy of my liver showed that the blockage was benign. But if I did not have cancer, then why were my blood counts fluctuating so much? No one knew. After several weeks of additional testing, I was referred to a liver specialist in Seattle, Washington.

We traveled to Seattle to meet with the liver specialist and his team. They recommended that the benign tumor be removed, so I underwent surgery to take out the tumor along with any damaged tissue in my liver. During recovery I developed a severe Stapholococcus infection, which kept me hospitalized for about a month. Relief at last! I was on the road back to normal, back to work, back to enjoying my family and the great outdoors—or so I thought.

Still, my blood counts did not return to normal. I had more tests, and my local doctor soon referred me to an oncologist at the cancer center in our hometown. I had a bone marrow biopsy because the doctor suspected a blood disorder. After waiting several weeks for the results, finally we found out that I had cancer—myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a pre-leukemic condition. 

A wrong number that turned out right

As my wife and I came to terms with my diagnosis, we began to think about the next step. We had to decide where I would seek treatment. We were considering local options, while my oncologist was encouraging me to return to Seattle. But the Seattle option came with a rigid treatment plan.

That approach didn’t sit right with me or my wife, my caregiver throughout this time. She dove into the research, and at some point she took out her cell phone so we could call the facility in Seattle to ask some questions about the proposed treatment plan. She searched online for the phone number, dialed, and was soon speaking with a very polite woman who was happy to help. She and my wife discussed my situation, and soon enough it was time to discuss what next. We would get our paperwork together, and we would be flown out to the facility to meet the care team, go over my diagnosis, and hear my treatment options.

It turns out, my wife thought she had called the facility in Seattle, but she had actually called Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA).

My wife and the representative, whose name was Sheila, chatted some more, and after the call my wife turned to me and said, “We know where you’re going”

Soon after that call we traveled to Western Regional Medical Center, CTCA’s facility in Phoenix, Arizona. We met Dr. Qwan and other specialists who would be part of my care team. Dr. Qwan confirmed my diagnosis, but when I asked about treatment options, his reply absolutely floored me. I didn’t have to wait until the cancer progressed to leukemia. They wanted to start treatment the very next day.

The little things

The treatment plan was eight rounds of chemotherapy with decitabine. Fortunately, I handled the medication fairly well, without any nausea or vomiting. However, the injection given after chemotherapy to boost white blood cell count left me very fatigued. Throughout the treatment, fatigue was the main side effect, and it was sometimes difficult to get through that.

I was grateful for the medical expertise, but CTCA offered so much more beyond that. My wife was fully supported in her caregiving. I could see how difficult her job was. Sometimes I would tell her I was hungry and she would prepare a meal for me, only to find me getting full after one bite. That can be very frustrating and exhausting for a caregiver. So I valued my care team’s support of her, even over the phone when we were home between chemotherapy rounds.

When we were at CTCA for weeklong stays, the support was wonderful. Washing machines and dryers are available for use and for no charge, not even for the detergent. That is a tiny matter in the grand scheme of things, but these little things can build up into a big stress, especially when you are away from home. The food is nutritious and tasty, there is transportation available if you need it—I could go on! There is an understanding there about what takes the stress away, about what people need when they are going through cancer treatment or serving as a caregiver to a cancer patient. CTCA takes care of those things so that the patient and the caregiver are free to focus on healing.

It can’t have me

Today I am feeling very well, as my treatment continues with one week of chemotherapy per month. But it hasn’t always been easy going through this ordeal.

At some point during this journey, I began to realize that cancer was changing me. I became depressed, and didn’t recognize that simply the fact of being diagnosed with cancer was causing this creeping kind of depression. The physical sickness itself was actually not that bad to deal with. It wasn’t painful. But there were mental and emotional challenges. It changes how you live.

At some point, I decided to live by that very wise saying, “I might have cancer but I refuse to let it have me.” I started to stare it in the face and absolutely refuse to give my life to the depression and anguish, and the fallout from those states of mind. I found my resolve, and stubbornly said no, I’m not going to play into this. Finding that location in myself was essential, and helped me come through this a better person than I was before.

Today is wonderful. My wife and I treasure even more all that we have. Our grandson was born since my diagnosis, which is such a gift. I can’t say it’s been a good thing to get cancer, but the journey itself has not been a bad one. As I said: Today is wonderful.

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