My name is Dan Gennari and I started this blog in January 2009 as a way to stay in touch with family and friends after being diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkins Lymphoma. Over the months of treatment that followed, I learned a lot from the blogs of other cancer survivors and frequently found comfort in reading about their experiences and recognizing that they were similar to my own. During those months I also re-discovered how much I enjoy writing. I had always written for fun as a creative outlet when I was younger, but a career and being a parent sidelined that hobby until this year. After a few months of chemotherapy, I transformed this site from a blog just about my cancer experience, to a story about all the aspects of life that I feel are worth writing about. That said, cancer remained, and still remains a major subject on the blog, as it has played a major role in my life. Here is the summarized version of my cancer story.
After being diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, I began chemotherapy for what was supposed to be a treatment protocol of 12 treatments (6 cycles) administered every other week. That was to be followed by approximately 4 weeks of radiation treatment administered 5 days per week. I mentally braced myself for this exact set of planned treatments and was ill prepared when unpredictable factors forced changes to be made. My first mid-treatment PET Scan showed a big improvement in the metastatic growth of the cancer, as it had resigned itself to only the large tumor in my chest. but that tumor had not shrunk as much as my doctor wanted it to. The doctor mentioned the possibility of extra chemotherapy at that time. Eight weeks later, he confirmed that possibility when the next PET scan again showed very little change in the size of the tumor and a continuance of live activity. I was very depressed to get this news, but figured I had no other choice. In those final eight weeks, I developed peripheral neuropathy caused by the Vinblastine in my chemo cocktail. It affected me by causing a numb tingling feeling in my hands and feet, much like when one of your extremities “goes to sleep,” except it persisted all the time. A final PET scan in September 2009 showed the same progress as before…the tumor had shrunk by less then half a centimeter in diameter and was still lighting up on the scan as an active cancer cell community.
Instead of getting the radiation I had thought I would get, it was recommended at this point that I pursue a bone marrow transplant instead. I sought out an uber specialist in this type of treatment at Emory University and she wanted to take a step back and biopsy the tumor to make sure that we were in fact dealing with Hodgkins Lymphoma. They biopsied four separate pieces of tissue and could not find any sign of active cancer cells in any of them. At that point, she recommended that we wait a few months and repeat the PET scan to see if the cancer really is dead, or if it starts growing back. This summary makes the time between then end of chemo and the final recommendation from the oncologist seem simple, but in fact, it was two and a half months of non-stop guess work, worrying, testing, consultations, and traveling back and forth to different cancer centers. The chemo was the hardest physical element to deal with, but all the back and forth and weeks of uncertainty during this time of researching options for the bone marrow transplant were far more stressful.
It was during that time that I started to identify some of the deeper feelings I have about cancer and how I want to get more involved with the cancer support community. Prior to the BMT prep time, I was just trying to plod through the chemo and intended to get that part of life over with and never look back. But I now realize that the problems I faced are not singular, and they are not easy and not everyone has a complete support network like I did to get them through it. In fact, not everyone does get through it. Cancer comes with unexpected twists and turns and I have known people who experienced unexpected problems in their cancer treatment and ultimately died. I realized that there was not much more than fate between those instances and my own mortality, and realized that I seem to have been spared the most horrific and painful elements of cancer treatments, and for that I am incredibly grateful and wish to contribute in some way back to the community of survivors.