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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Chris Natzel

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma - Stage IV

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

Some time in 2011, I noticed I was putting on weight and decided to diet. The pounds came off, but soon I was becoming too thin. I went from 175 pounds to 142 pounds in less than a year. I could see my ribcage.

In the spring of 2012, my wife noticed a lump on my neck. Soon after, we found one on my leg. I was experiencing loose bowel issues several times a day. My wife kept telling me to see a doctor, and I kept resisting. I hadn’t been for a check-up in decades, and it was my habit to not seek medical care unless something was broken or bleeding.

By Memorial Day weekend, my son, who was in his early 30s at the time, told me, “You don’t look good,” and my family made me promise to go see a doctor immediately.

Because I didn’t have a primary care physician, I went to the local after-hours emergency clinic near our home in Bad Axe, Michigan. The doctor there did a computed tomography (CT) scan and told me he was almost positive I had cancer, even though he wasn’t an oncologist.

We live in a small town with limited options for cancer care. I had a friend who had been treated at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA). I did some research and decided to inquire about treatment there. I was impressed from the start. When I called, everything was handled so smoothly. By the following week, I was at CTCA®.

Intensive care

When I arrived at CTCA, the first step was a biopsy so that I could receive an accurate diagnosis. Dr. Shah told me that I had stage IV non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL). I had surgery so that several lymph nodes could be removed.

Then I started on combination chemotherapy with a regimen Rituximab-bendamustine (R-bendamustine) for four cycles, followed by Zevalin therapy. After a few rounds of treatment, the cancer went away. That was in the early winter of 2012.

By March of 2013, I knew something wasn’t right. I was having weight and bowel issues again, and my CTCA doctors confirmed that the cancer had returned. This time, I was given R-ICE (Rituxan, ifosfamid, carboplatin and etoposide) chemotherapy twice with no response. The cancer would not go away, even with a more intensive regimen.

Seeing that this second stretch of chemotherapy was not helping, my doctors recommended a stem cell transplant. I had been researching NHL online and asking many questions, and I knew that this approach was my last hope. Both of my sisters were tested for donor compatibility, and both were matches. My youngest sister, Karen, ended up as my donor.

To prepare my body to accept the transplanted cells, I needed to undergo a different chemotherapy that would destroy my immune system. This phase of treatment was the most difficult one for me. I had terrible side effects, including painful mouth sores, aching muscles, extreme fatigue, and a loss of appetite so severe I had to be fed intravenously. I wouldn’t wish this experience on my worst enemy. But my Care Team helped me through. They helped me maintain a nutritious diet. Physical therapy and massages helped ease the pain and other issues.

The road to recovery

On July 1, 2013, the date of my 35th wedding anniversary to my beautiful wife, Jean, I underwent a stem cell transplant. The procedure itself was rather simple and took only an hour. There was no pain at all, although my sister did have some flu-like symptoms afterwards for a short while. I remained at the CTCA guest quarters for 80 days after the procedure and that place really became a temporary home. I stayed in a two-bedroom suite and used the second bedroom as an office. I saw Dr. Redei or Dr. Abutalib at least once a week. Sometimes I needed to be rehydrated or have magnesium treatments.

I had regular massages and also tried Reiki therapy during this time. I was very skeptical about this modality, but it was actually incredibly calming. I have no idea how it works, but I do know that it helped calm me. I was very weak after the transplant, but slowly started to regain my strength, and I also worked with a physical therapist at CTCA. My naturopathic oncology clinician suggested vitamin B and probiotics. My dietitians suggested foods that are high in magnesium and fiber.

In October of 2013, my Care Team told me I could return home. Life wasn’t completely back to normal. I was weaker and tired easily. Exercising was hard because work tired me out. I continued with weekly saline infusions, which my wife administered, and I had a home nurse to change my dressings. But I continued to get stronger.

Jean was amazing. She did everything to help me get better. She cared for me and kept me healthy and stayed in touch with CTCA about my status. I am so blessed to have her in my life. CTCA was very supportive of her as my caregiver. My doctors insisted that she join my appointments, which helped us both. They were there for her just as much as they were there for me. Being able to play an active role in my care helped reduce her anxiety about my situation.

In the spring of 2015, I experienced graft-versus-host disease, which my CTCA team treated promptly and accurately. Within two months, I stopped taking the medication needed to treat this issue.

So many people to thank

There are so many people at CTCA who made a difference in my life. Julie Rout, my Care Manager, was exceptional. Every time I called about a symptom or other issue, she was right there handling it. Dr. Redei impressed me from the start. I knew he was working in my best interest, even when I resisted his recommendations. I trusted him entirely. Dr. Abutalib also had my complete trust, and he also kept me laughing, which I needed.

I will continue to go to CTCA for as long as I need to. The fact that I can even provide this testimonial feels like a miracle to me. I had late-stage cancer, and here I am, getting stronger every day, a direct result of the care I received at CTCA.

Today, I urge other people to listen to their bodies. If I had been more diligent about seeing a doctor and looking after my health, the cancer may have been found sooner. I also encourage people to at least speak with someone at CTCA. The care I received there was great. The doctors are excellent, but the quality extended to other clinicians I met during my treatment. I am extremely thankful to have my life back.