Famous Lymphoma Survivors Can Be Models for Hope

Famous Lymphoma Survivors Can Be Models for Hope

I don’t like to think about death, much less write about it. Over 11 years as a follicular lymphoma patient, I’ve gotten pretty good at not thinking about it.

But now and then, something happens that makes it unavoidable. Like when a famous person with lymphoma, such as Paul Allen, dies.

As a lymphoma advocate, I hear from other patients a lot. And when someone famous with lymphoma dies, it seems to hit them especially hard. Maybe it’s because we see celebrities as role models. Their lives can appear to be ideal. If they can’t survive this disease, what hope do we have?

To me, though, it’s worth thinking about all the famous people who have survived: Mr. T (my favorite lymphoma survivor), filmmaker Julia Reichert, pro hockey legend Mario Lemieux, and business executive Nicola Mendelsohn.

Famous people can be models for hope.

When I was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma, my kids were 10, 8, and 6. My 6-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son knew what cancer was, but didn’t fully understand what it meant for me.

My 10-year-old son knew exactly what was going on. And I thought that if I could get him to stay positive, he could be a good influence on his siblings.

My wife and I decided that we would be as honest as we could with our kids about my diagnosis. We didn’t have all the answers — we told them a few days after we found out — but we could tell them what we did know.

We sat down together, my daughter on my wife’s lap, and my sons next to me on the couch, with my arms around each of them. We told them that I had a kind of cancer, a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL). As I said the words, I could feel my sons’ bodies tense up.

I turned to my eldest. “You already know about someone with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” I said to him.

“No, I don’t,” he said, too scared to think.

“Yes, you do. Jon Lester.”

Immediately, his entire body relaxed, and I heard a faint “whew” come from his lips.

Jon Lester was a pitcher for my son’s beloved Boston Red Sox. About 18 months before I received my diagnosis, Lester found out he had NHL. He went through chemotherapy successfully and returned to pitch for the Sox the following year. A few months before my diagnosis, Lester won the deciding game of the 2007 World Series.

Lester and I had two different types of NHL (his was very aggressive, while mine is slow-growing). But that didn’t matter. Reminding my son about Jon Lester gave him hope. One of his heroes had been through it and came out OK. It let him believe that I was going to be OK, too.

A few months later, Lester threw a no-hitter. I woke my son up so we could watch Lester’s last inning together. I had my arm around him as we watched.

My son still has a plaque on his bedroom wall celebrating that no-hitter. It’s a reminder to him of that great night, and to stay hopeful.

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Note: Lymphoma News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Lymphoma News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to lymphoma.

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Bob McEachern is a Follicular Lymphoma patient and advocate. He was diagnosed with Follicular Lymphoma, a slow-growing but incurable blood cancer, in 2008. Since then, he has used his blog, Lympho Bob, to bring information and hope to other FL patients. A writing teacher and married father of three, he enjoys gardening, music, and travel.

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