Life changing treatment: Stem cell transplant gives new hope to lymphoma patient
By Kristine Burnett
“It was like getting hit in the head with a two by four.”
That’s how Bill Clayburg describes being diagnosed with t-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma in June 2012. Once the initial shock of his diagnosis wore off, the 80-year-old East Mesa resident turned to Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Gilbert for treatment.
With a positive attitude and willingness to do whatever was necessary, Clayburg underwent five rounds of chemotherapy and an additional drug therapy. When those treatments failed to rid his body of the disease, doctors suggested a new strategy: stem cell transplantation.
“About a year into my cancer treatment the doctors brought up stem cell transplant as a possible option,” explains Clayburg. “My immediate thought was, ‘OK, let’s do whatever works.’”
Stem cell transplantation is an aggressive treatment that, for patients whose healthy blood cells have become crowded out by cancerous ones, may be the only curative option. But before Clayburg could move forward with transplantation, he had to complete a rigorous qualification process.
“They basically wipe out your entire immune system before the transplant, so it’s important to know ahead of time what your body can and can’t tolerate,” he says. “I was impressed with the thoroughness of the screening. Even my dentist had to sign off because my doctors didn’t want to run the risk of me getting an oral infection.”
Once cleared for the procedure, Clayburg was admitted to Banner Gateway Medical Center, located on the same campus, in August 2013. Over the course of 18 days he underwent five days of intense chemotherapy followed by stem cell transplantation on day six.
“They gave me real tough chemo twice a day for four days and then backed off a bit on day five,” he recalls. “It took two sessions to do the actual transplant.”
Post transplant care
Once transplantation was complete, Clayburg remained hospitalized for 12 days of close observation to ensure his body was responding appropriately. Satisfied with the results, doctors released Clayburg from the hospital, but not before his wife, Jody, took part in a half-day seminar tailored to caregivers of stem cell transplant patients.
“My good wife was my fantastic caregiver and they [Banner MD Anderson] made sure she knew what to do,” he says. “Having an understanding, informed and patient caregiver is a necessity. Banner leaves nothing to chance.”
For several weeks, Clayburg returned to Banner MD Anderson two to three times week for outpatient monitoring. Pleased with his progress, doctors began spreading out the follow-up visits.
“I was never really wiped out,” he says. “My energy level was down a bit and I couldn’t drive for three weeks after the procedure, but my energy level is back to 100 percent now and I’m doing everything I did before.”
Enjoying each day
A positron emission tomography (PET) scan in early December showed Clayburg’s cancer was 95 percent gone. A follow-up scan in February will give physicians a better understanding of the disease status so they can plan next steps accordingly. Until then, Clayburg is enjoying each day.
When asked what advice he would offer to anyone facing cancer, Clayburg encourages them to be thoughtful and thorough.
“You play the hand you’re dealt. Don’t do any shortcuts and maintain a positive attitude. If you don’t, then what’s the point?”