Taking Down Cancer: Beating Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

By now, many of those reading this know I have been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. To others who didn’t know, I imagine this is quite the shock.

Off the bat, I’m doing well and currently getting my first chemo treatment as I type this. I like to call it a chemical cocktail of science. Well, I’m actually the chemical cocktail of science now but that’s neither here nor there.

But let’s back up because most of you probably want the full story of how I found out and how the fuck I, someone who eats well, drinks little, and exercises every day, could land this stupid disease.

Frankly, being healthy doesn’t stop your body from having a little slip up internally and letting the bad cells through. I’ll be having a word with the interior minister when this is all said and done.

The Back Story

Most people want to know how I figured this entire thing out. Well, here we go.

As most know, I’ll hike in about any conditions. So I was out hiking Picacho Peak in about 95-degree weather and noticed that I was having a harder time on this hike than I had in the past. I chalked it up to the weather.

Then doing normal hikes around Phoenix – Camelback and Piestewa Peak – I was taking minutes longer and needing to stop in places I’ve never had to before. Again, these hikes were after work and in 100 degree temps so I figured I was simply slower due to the heat.

All in the while, my resting heart rate was creeping up into the upper 70’s, a place that is about 17-20 beats per minute faster than usual.

Once September rolled around, I began training for a half marathon and then marathon I was planning to run in January and February. My initial runs, about 2.5 – 3.0 miles couldn’t have gone worse. I could barely make it a mile without feeling like my heart was going to burst out of my chest.

This was the final wake up call that something was up.

But I thought it was my lungs as I was having trouble getting a full breath.

So, to the doctor I went – only to have them tell me my lungs were fine and I should go see a cardiologist.

Fun with Cardio

At the cardiologist, I got my baseline EKG, did a treadmill stress test, and echo (ultrasound of the heart). Here, they told us I had pulmonary valve stenosis – a constriction of one my valves leading into the heart. But, the doc wanted an MRI to get a better look. Good thing he did.

Less than 30 minutes after my MRI was completed (Chest MRI’s are awful folks. 90 minutes in a tube is no fun), I got a call from them saying he wanted me to come in the next day. That’s never a good sign.

I head back to the doctor’s office to learn that no, it’s not a heart issue, but I have a mass the size of my fist that is pressing on my heart and causing the distress. This came out of left field and we were left googling the chances that chest tumors are non-cancerous.

(Side Note: Apparently most are non-cancerous but in this case that didn’t apply to me)

Fun with Oncology

Later that week we met with my oncologist who broke the news that I did indeed have cancer. Initially, they thought it was a germ-cell tumor but after more scans that was dismissed – instead getting the non-Hodgkin’s diagnosis. It was a blur and I definitely didn’t get to comprehend it all.

Trip to the Hospital

Then, five days after I learned about the diagnosis, I woke up with incredible chest pain and was advised to go to the Emergency Room. This stay ended up being a much, much longer than I had expected.

Night of surgery
Hospital visitors

The chest pain went away with morphine but they ended up doing the CT Scan (which insurance was dragging their feet on) and the chest biopsy which was major surgery.

To reach my chest, they had to collapse my left lung in the process – with meant I had chest tubes for 4 days while I stayed in the hospital.

Post-hospital, the doctor’s visits didn’t stop.

I had to go to the fertility clinic twice to freeze sperm in case chemo wrecks my DNA. I had to do a lung function test to set a baseline. I had to get a PT Scan, get my stitches removed from surgery, and get a port installed (instead of going into my arm veins each time, there a port near my neck they “plug” into to administer the drugs). And then I had a couple other follow up educational sessions about the chemo process and side effects and all that jazz.

Whew. Exhausted yet?

My port

Getting Chemo

One day in, chemo in itself wasn’t that bad. It didn’t hurt. I didn’t feel awful afterward (that’s coming down the road I assume). I was a little foggy though, but that seems normal to me.

What was weird was when they gave me Benadryl and an anti-nausea medicine, it knocked me out for about 30-minutes. I couldn’t do anything. But then I perked back up and was good for the remainder of the ‘drug trip.’

Next Steps

If all goes well, I’ll have six treatments which will place my final chemo appointment on March 14, 2019. Helluva way to start spring break, right?! (Just kidding, adults don’t get spring break for some insane reason.)

That means by the first weekend in April, I should be cancer-free and ready to head back out into the world with a little less hair but the same adventurous spirit you all know and love.

I’ll try to keep you all posted periodically and you can always check out the Instagram (@UofAlec) for the latest.

Hopefully, I’ve answered all of your questions in here but if not, don’t hesitate to ask me.


Thanks for all the love, prayers, and good vibes you’ve been sending my way. It’s greatly appreciated!