The Rider

January 3, 2011

Alex Gets Some Tough News From His Doctor …

Filed under: Alex Kip — Tags: , , , , — The Blog @ 5:21 AM

This is Chapter 3 in the on-going story of Alex Kip, 23, and his battle with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (Type B) cancer.

Alex and his parents learn that the cancerous mass in his chest has shrunk, but has not "melted away" as his doctor had hoped

These were not the words – or percentages – Alex and his parents were hoping to hear.

Alex, Cindy and Nick are gathered in an 11th floor examining room at the James, listening to Dr. Sam Penza. Yes, the tumor in his chest has shrunk after two rounds of chemotherapy treatments, his doctor says. “But it hasn’t completely melted away the way we had hoped.”

It seems the cancerous mass in Alex’s chest is resistant and determined.

“Regardless, we’ve done the best we can with chemo and there has been some response,” Dr. Penza explains. “So, we’re going to go ahead with one more full dose of chemo and then the (stem-cell) transplant right after that and then radiation.”

The Kips are silent as Dr. Penza speaks, trying to take in all this news and information. Their silence speaks volumes – and fills the small room with their stunned nervousness and fear, and the surreal feeling that this just can’t be happening, that we’ve done everything we were supposed to do, and this just can’t be happening.

But it is.

Dr. Penza describes the battle Alex has ahead of him – and the odds he faces…

Dr. Penza describes the odds Alex faces

For someone with this type of tumor that has gone into complete remission, the cure rate is 60 to 70 percent; for someone whose tumor is in partial remission, the cure rate is 30 to 40 percent; for someone whose tumor is considered primary refractory, which means resistant to treatment, the cure drops to 10 to 15 percent.

“Your tumor is somewhere between partial remission and primary refractory,” Dr. Penza says.

This means Alex’s cure rate is somewhere between 15 and 30 percent.

“Will radiation increase his cure rate,” Cindy asks, as she continues to scribble notes.

“Yes,” Dr. Penza answers, “but the limiting factor is the toxicity to the surrounding areas, in this case the heart and lungs … I’ll do everything I can to give you the best chance of curing this disease once and for all.”

A few minutes later, Dr. Penza leaves – and the Kips remain in the examining room. For a long minute or two, there is silence. Then Cindy’s eyes begin to tear up – and soon the tears are rolling down her cheek.

“I’m sorry, I’ll stop,” she says.

“You had to start,” Alex says – and grabs a tissue to wipe away a tear. (“I said that because when I see her crying, it makes me cry,” Alex says later. “It’s the hardest when I see how this affects other people.”)

“I need a few moments and then I’ll feel better,” Cindy says.

“It’s always hard at first, any time you get semi-bad news,” Alex says.

“It’s not bad news, it’s just not as good as it could be,” Cindy says in a determined tone. She’s already stopped crying and has gone back into full caregiver mode.

*** *** *** *** *** ***

For two full days last week, Alex underwent a series of tests, meetings and educational sessions – including the difficult meeting with Dr. Penza – to prepare him for his stem-cell transplant, which will take place the end of January.

This is Alex's CAT-scan - and shows the size and shape of the tumor in his chest

“Up until this point there had never been any talk at all that I wouldn’t be cured,” Alex says later. “So, I was always under the impression that there would be no problem curing it, that it wouldn’t be a big deal, I just have to be patient and go through everything. But after hearing this from Dr. Penza, it’s like damn, wow.”

The news was difficult to hear, but Alex is tough and determined – and quickly began preparing himself physically and mentally for what lies ahead.

“It’s kind of weird to be told you have a 10 to 35 percent chance and part of me is like, what’s the point?’” he says, adding the first few minutes and hours after bad news are the hardest. “It was tough, but you have to get over those bad feeling and the fear … You can’t stay there – that’s not going to help anything. But I think now I’m starting to understand the severity of it all. Up until now it’s been easy, well, not easy, but the chemo treatments have gone smoothly and I haven’t had any real complications. So this was like the first time I realized this is going to be difficult.”

After the first day of tests, and the news from Dr. Penza, Alex and his girlfriend, Kate Harlow, and his sister, Liz, and her boyfriend, Ian Taylor, went to see the lights at the Columbus Zoo.

After a long, tough day at the hospital, Alex headed to the zoo for some fun with (from the left) Ian, Liz and Kate

“It was good to just go out and forget about it and not think about it,” Alex says.

The next night, after the tests and meetings finally ended, he went to a friend’s birthday party.

“Without all my friends, calling me and cheering me up and making me go out, it would be harder,” he says. “Without that I’d just sit around and think about it a lot more.”

Click here to read the previous chapter of Alex’s story.


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