Larry Conrad went in for his annual physical on his 50th birthday. During his exam, his doctor found swollen lymph nodes in his armpits and groin. Conrad had a cough and said he'd lost weight because he 'felt full all the time'. His doctor ordered a series of tests, and Conrad was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, the most common type. He rejected the standard chemotherapy protocol, and, like over half a million other Americans, traveled outside the US for cancer treatment. According to TMD Limited, a medial tourism company, many patients seeking care in foreign medical centers are going specifically for cancer treatment.
Lymphoma is a cancer of the blood system that develops in the lymphatic system. Lymph is a colorless, watery fluid that carries white blood cells and protects against infection and tumor growth.
Lymphoma symptoms include swollen, painless nodes in the neck, groin or armpit, unexplained weight loss, soaking night sweats, fevers, coughing, chest pain or trouble breathing, fatigue, and pain, swelling or a feeling of fullness in the abdomen.
According to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, there are currently 628,415 people living with Hodgkin's in the US, and there will be 19,230 deaths from lymphoma this year.
Hodgkin's lymphoma is found in lymph tissue in the neck, spleen, liver. Hodgkin's lymphoma is characterized by the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells – large cancerous cells in the lymphatic tissue. Lymphomas can spread through lymph tissue and vessels and through the blood to other lymph nodes, lungs and liver. Yet this is the most curable form of lymphoma.
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma develops in white blood cells called B-lymphocytes, or B-cells. When these cells become abnormal, they multiply rapidly and can spread to all parts of the body. Although the cause is unknown, lymphomas usually develop in patients with weak immune systems. Risk factors include being older, male, white and having an inherited immune disorder, auto immune disease, HIV/AIDS, Epstein-Barr virus, a history of helicobacter pylori infection, taking immune-suppressant drugs after an organ transplant, pesticide exposure, a diet high in meats and fat, and a prior lymphoma diagnosis (recurrence).
Conrad had the recommended tests - a bone marrow aspiration and biopsy of the blood, marrow, bone fragments and lymph nodes, labs and CT/PET/MRI scans to see if the cancer had spread.
Conventional treatment includes radiation, chemotherapy, watchful waiting, high dose chemotherapy with bone marrow stem cell transplants and vaccines. According to the National Institutes of Health, US spending on Lymphoma treatment will exceed 10.2 billion dollars this year.
Conrad researched these treatments. He understood the side effects of prolonged, high dose chemo, and was afraid he would be too sick from the treatments to work. He needed to work to keep his insurance. He learned that taking cells from his own bone marrow was risky because the cells might contain cancer. A bone marrow transplant from a donor, besides being a very painful procedure, poses a danger of infection and rejection. Before a donor transplant, his body would have to be 'conditioned' by chemotherapy to suppress his immune system. In up to 50% of patients, the transplant causes a serious attack by the patient's own immune system, which can be life threatening. To avoid this, patients must take steroids, methotrexate, cyclosporine, tacrolimus and monoclonal antibodies. To someone who did not even take aspirin, this drug regime was overwhelming.
Conrad did not want his family to watch him suffer through conventional treatments, and he needed to supervise his small business to support his family. He began researching alternative treatments, and after weeks of perusing websites and reading patient blogs, he found a small private clinic that offered aggressive natural treatments that had no side effects.