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Relay for Life DJ shares story

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By Cancer Survivor, Michael Sietsema

 In February 2011, I was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and my story all began with a skin cancer on my nose. Dr. Timothy Brown, my dermatologist, suspected leukemia as he examined the slides from the cancer he removed. The cells were abnormal and he quickly ordered additional blood work.

I admit I was skeptical at first and thought the doctor was crazy. My wife pushed me to have the blood work done there in Dr. Brown’s lab the next day and I was given the horrific results. My platelet counts were so low that I could have bled out at any time.

Looking back, I should have realized something was wrong prior to the diagnosis. I was tired all the time and I constantly needed a nap. Each morning I would wake up with a bruised crease in my cheek from sleeping on the pillow, but often joked with my wife that she must have hit me during the night.

I was then referred to Dr. Rafiq Rahman, an oncologist in Elizabethtown, and my treacherous journey was only beginning when I was admitted to Hardin Memorial Hospital for low blood platelet counts. First, there was a blood transfusion, followed by a bone biopsy in the hip which was not a pleasant experience at all.

Next, came a biopsy of a lymph node in my neck and a port insertion in my chest.

After several days in the hospital, I was sent home with a follow up appointment and began massive doses of steroids which made my face swell and caused me to be hungry all the time. Because of the steroids, I am now diabetic, but they were needed to increase my platelet count. I was a major risk for additional treatment until the platelet count was under control.

When I met with Dr. Rahman, he told me I had CLL and said, “If you have to have cancer, at least this is the kind of cancer to have as we can treat it.” CLL is a chronic cancer unlike other forms of leukemia. We discussed chemotherapy and Rituxan therapy (the use of monoclonal antibodies to specifically target cells or proteins). I started the chemo and was only able to complete two of the three treatments as it depleted my while blood cells. I was, however, able to continue Rituxan treatments.

Currently, my leukemia is under control and I am in partial remission. I see my doctor every six months for a treatment a week for four weeks. This, along with monthly blood work and a CT scan every six months, keeps me in fairly good health. It does seem like I am always at the doctor, but I am very thankful for this new lease on life with time spent with my wife, children, and grandkids.

I am so grateful for my life and give all the credit to my amazing doctors and the miracle drug Rituxan. I already know that if this medicine stops working, a possible bone marrow transplant is the next step, but at my age this would be dangerous. My doctor remains optimistic and I have already surpassed his expectations for my recovery. This stubborn Dutchman isn’t going anywhere yet.

I am looking forward to being the DJ at the LaRue County Relay for Life this Friday and providing the music and karaoke at the Hodgenville Elementary site. Join us. Just follow the music and come out and support this great cause.