Cancer crisis: 'I survived lymphoma'

Tony Bevilacqua shares his decade-long struggle with lymphoma.

11 June 2015
by Stefan de Clerk

In 2004, Tony Bevilacqua, then 42, from Pretoria was diagnosed with lymphoma, with no prior cancer history in his family. This is his story…

“One day in 2004 while at work, I suddenly got a terrible pain in my back. I had been feel-ing a lingering pain for a while, but being in construction, I didn’t really think anything about it. However, that day it was so bad that I couldn’t walk, and a driver had to take me to the hospital.

The blur of cancer treatment

At the hospital the doctors did some tests, including MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and ultrasound scans, and immediately put me on antibiotics. The scans showed a growth the size of a golf ball in my back, so the doctors then took a small tissue sample from it to perform a biopsy. The biopsy confirmed that the growth was malignant, and I was officially diagnosed with lymphoma.

From there, things went pretty quickly: I saw an oncologist a couple of days later, and within a week I’d started my first of five chemotherapy treatments.

To make administering treatment easier, doctors installed what is known as a Port-A-Cath – this is a catheter that is installed under the skin, allowing easy access to veins without causing too much discomfort. This definitely helped, as chemotherapy is hard on your veins, and having your arm punctured every time starts taking its toll after a couple of treatments.

In addition to the chemotherapy, I was also given Neupogen, a drug that helps increase white blood cell levels [to keep the immune system functioning properly], and also facilitates bone marrow growth.

The physical and mental challenges

The effect of treatment really depends on the person. I was lucky that I didn’t really have any side effects such as nausea, head rushes and burning veins from the chemo, and I was able to go to work the day after my treatment.

The Neupogen did give me intense pain in my lower body to the point where it sometimes made it difficult to walk the day after. My immune system was also shot, and I ended up in hospital with ear and throat infections a number of times.

Arguably, one of the biggest challenges with cancer is the psychological. When you get cancer, many people around you like your friends and family freak out and go into ‘desper-ation mode’, bombarding you with information about treatments and diets they read about online. Trying to stay positive, focused and calm through all this well-intentioned noise is a great challenge mentally.

My advice for staying strong

I was finally given the all-clear a decade after I was first diagnosed. My biggest piece of advice to anyone who has just been diagnosed is to keep it simple, and to try to keep things as normal as possible.

Then, follow a healthy, balanced diet, and just listen to your body – steer clear of crazy diets. Also, avoid information overload, stay away from Google and encourage your loved ones to do the same. No matter how good their intentions, you really don’t need this ‘desperation mode’, because it causes unnecessary stress, and can have seriously negative effects mentally.

And finally, try to make the struggle as fun as you can, for example, set yourself daily goals so you can keep busy and focus on something other than the cancer.”

IMAGE CREDIT: 123rf.com

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