Luke vs. Cancer

on Nov 06, 2015


Team In Training (TNT) has been very helpful in assisting me to achieve my goals.  I have now completed two events with TNT, the BMO Vancouver half marathon and the Scotia bank Calgary full marathon.  Although running is an individual activity, I would not have been able to achieve what I have without the great assistance from TNT.  I am very grateful to be able to do what I have because there was a time in my life where running marathons and fundraising events was not an option for me. 


My journey began back in 2010, shortly after my eighteenth birthday, as I developed a sore throat. However, this sore throat persisted for weeks, which was very unusual, so I decided to go to my family doctor to get it checked out. Since this was such a benign symptom at first, he wasn’t too concerned, so prescribed some antibiotics and assured me it would be gone in a few days.  However, a few more weeks went by with no improvement and new symptoms developed.  It was beginning to become difficult to swallow, as a sharp pain radiated across the side of my throat all the way to my ear. It was so severe that I essentially stopped eating.  I eventually went back to my family doctor, and after numerous emergency room visits, I was finally referred to see an ENT specialist.  By the time I got in to see the specialist, I had stopped attending school because the pain was so bad.  The specialist examined me and determined it would be a good idea to get a tonsillectomy.  Luckily, while I was waiting for my surgery I was prescribed analgesic medication so that I was able to eat again without pain.   I had already lost over 10 pounds by this point.  On the day of my surgery, I was both hopeful and relieved. The surgery was very quick and when I awoke I was back in the recovery room with both my brother and mom. My mom wanted to see how my mouth looked after the surgery so I opened wide and let her take a peek.  It was heartbreaking when she said that my tonsils were still intact.  I was both shocked and worried as to why they were still there.  Shortly afterwards the surgeon entered the room and said that he did not remove my tonsils because he found a large mass in my throat. I was informed that a biopsy of this lesion would reveal what it was. 


A few days passed and at this point the pain was so bad that I had stopped eating completely.  The day finally came when the doctor called with the result of the biopsy.  My mom answered the phone and shortly after talking she told me with the news.  I was sitting on the couch when she told me that I had cancer and that the doctor wanted me to go to the Cross Cancer Institute immediately.  Numerous thoughts raced through my head.  I knew I had been sick for a while, but never would have guessed that I had cancer, especially at my age.  I packed some clothes and went to straight to the Cross Cancer Institute.  I didn’t have time to really think over what was going to happen to me, but I knew this was my only option at the time.  Upon arrival, I was admitted to the hospital as an inpatient.  


When the doctor arrived in my hospital room, he explained to me what was going on.  I had stage 2 Burkitts Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a very rare type of cancer with only 220 cases in Canada each year.  He explained that my treatment would consist of 4 rounds of intensive multi-agent chemotherapy and that I would be an impatient at the hospital for the entire summer, roughly the next 5 months. He explained to me that statistics don’t matter, as everyone responds differently to treatment. With the highly aggressive nature of the cancer that I was diagnosed with, chemotherapy tended to either cure it fully, as long as my body could handle it, or unfortunately tended to fail with minimal effect on the cancer. The doctor did reinforce that because I was young and that we caught the cancer relatively early, my chance of cure was increased. 



The next day, blood work was done to determine if my body could handle the chemotherapy - given my current state of health.  In addition, I got a central venous catheter line inserted into my chest, which would be used to administer the chemotherapy throughout my treatment.  After they determined that I was healthy enough for chemotherapy, my treatment began. I received four rounds of treatment, each lasting approximately 10 days with a recovery period of 14 days in between each treatment.  My body handled most of the treatment fairly well, but occasionally there were some side effects which affected my quality of life.  Chemotherapy was very difficult, as the treatment prevented me from being able to live my normal life. The support I had from my family, as well as the many physicians and nurses at the CCI was outstanding.   


Upon completion of my last treatment, nearly five months since diagnosis, I was discharged from the hospital in the early fall.  Shortly after getting results from a CT scan, along with some blood work, my oncologist determined that my cancer was in remission.  I continued going back to the oncologist periodically for 2 years to make sure there were no signs of it coming back.  There never were any concerning investigations, signs, or symptoms since then, and I have now been cancer free for over 5 years. 



When I found out about Team In Training, it was a no brainer to get involved.  I was already an avid runner and this was a great way to give back to an amazing cause.  Training for a marathon is tough work and the support from TNT has been amazing.  However, much of my drive and motivation has come from within. My life altering journey and knowing what I have survived, has pushed me through any challenges that I now face in life.  There were many tough mornings waking up to go for a long training session, but thinking about my past and the battle I went through makes anything seem possible now. I am so thankful to be able to run a marathon today, because there was a time in my life that no matter how much I would have loved to have done so, the thought of it was completely out of the realm of possibility.  My journey with cancer started over 5 years ago, but knowing that I am able to act as an inspiration for others in their journey, while helping out by doing something that I love, makes me very grateful for where I am today.  It has been a roller coaster so far, but I plan to continue to support the LLSC and Team In Training for many more events and years to come. 


Luke Wawrinchuk


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