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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Stephen Hook

Hodgkin lymphoma - Stage IIB

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

My story

In 2011, when I was 36 years old, I began feeling severely fatigued. Then I developed some strange rashes. I was a healthy person, and my work as a concrete mason kept me active, so I didn’t think there was anything seriously wrong. But finally, I listened to my wife and went to the doctor. A few tests revealed the problem: I had Hodgkin lymphoma. 

The toughest part of the diagnosis was the feeling that I was not in control. I had to rely on my physicians and their recommendations. Of course, they were the ones with the expertise, but still, when you are not equipped to understand your own problem, that’s challenging.

After overcoming the initial shock, there was only one direction to take. I had to put my trust in somebody. The question was: Who?

I began treatment at a facility near our home, with chemotherapy. The first regimen I had was referred to as ABVD, for the four drugs it contains—adriamycin, bleomycin, vinblasine and dacarbazine. After that, I tried another chemotherapy combination. These treatments were difficult to tolerate. I felt nauseous, lost my hair, and was often very tired. At first, I could handle the challenge. That’s life, right? But after about 12 cycles, I started to feel wary. Each treatment would wipe me out for five or six days, and as soon as I felt better, it was time for the next round.

I tried to continue working during this time, and was able to sometimes. But many days, all I could do was show up at the job site to make sure everyone knew what they were supposed to be doing. Then I’d either nap at work or return home to rest. Although I was happy to have whatever treatment could get rid of the cancer, it was also hard to deal with the impact on my family life. The days spent in bed were days away from my wife and two stepsons. There were some holidays I was able to enjoy, but others where I just wasn’t up to it. That was hard, because it felt like lost time.

It was time to try another approach. Eventually, I decided to seek a second opinion. A good friend of ours had an uncle who had been treated at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) and recommended it, so we decided to schedule a consultation.

As soon as I arrived at CTCA®, the doctors I met with took time to answer all our questions. I was ready to start treatment right away, which began with chemotherapy and targeted therapies.

New treatment options

In February 2013, Dr. Crilley, my oncologist, recommended an autologous stem cell transplant as the next step. I was the first patient to undergo that treatment at CTCA in Philadelphia. The care I received during this intensive procedure was excellent. I felt like I was being treated by a member of my family. That procedure went very well, but eventually, the disease started to progress.  

Dr. Crilley presented a couple of options. I could have another transplant, this time using my sister’s stem cells. Or I could try immunotherapy, a new approach. I decided to try immunotherapy.

I was told that immunotherapy uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. In some instances, certain drugs are used to trigger an immune response against the mutant cells that make up a tumor or blood cancer.

I had already heard about immunotherapy by the time my doctors brought it up. They agreed that after chemotherapy and the transplant, this approach would be my next step. Studies had found the approach may help patients with Hodgkin lymphoma, so I agreed to try it.

A new experience

My experience with immunotherapy was completely different than my experience with chemotherapy. I did not experience any negative side effects from immunotherapy. The side effects I have experienced have all been positive: returning to normal energy levels, resuming normal activities, working hard, feeling like I can kick a soccer ball around with my stepsons, playing fetch with the dog, going for a walk with my wife. I’m almost back to 100 percent. The treatment has been easier in every way. I don’t have any days of fatigue following each treatment. I am able to work full time, and I don’t need a long stay at CTCA for each treatment. I haven’t felt as well as I do now since before I was diagnosed with cancer.

But there is so much more to the experience of CTCA than just the treatment. Some people have asked me why I travel for treatment, why I don’t just go somewhere local. Doesn’t it make life complicated? No, it doesn’t. CTCA takes the worry away. Scheduling, appointments, all of these details are taken care of. My response when people ask me about the inconvenience of traveling for treatment is that all I need to do is get there and get myself home. CTCA takes care of everything else.

The level of support I have experienced from my doctors and so many other people at CTCA is incredible. I look forward to my appointments. My doctor is brilliant and up to date on the latest advances, but she is also warm and down to Earth. She is cautious when she needs to be, but not withholding treatment that may help me. I feel that I can have frank discussions with her and Dr. Topolsky, my other oncologist, and they take the time I need to answer all of my questions.  

Moving forward

Today, I am still completing the immunotherapy treatment, and life is getting back to normal. I am more thankful than ever for my wife, who is the reason I am still here. She always knows what I need, and she has been there with me every step of the way. Having a caregiver like Amy has made all the difference.

This experience has changed how I approach the challenges of life. Before my diagnosis, I had trouble being flexible. There was always a certain way things should be done. But now I know that it is possible to go with the flow.

CTCA has provided a level of care that far exceeded my expectations. I am grateful for every minute of it, and for the time it has given back to me.