In 2007, Paul Left visited his GP about a small lump under his chin. Paul didn’t see or feel any other signs that he was unwell, so when a needle biopsy came back showing large diffuse B cell lymphoma, he was shocked.
“After a CT scan and bone marrow biopsy, I was diagnosed with stage four lymphoma. It was aggressive and widespread, and I needed treatment. From there, everything happened fairly quickly,” says Paul.
Paul went through six courses of a chemotherapy treatment called R-CHOP which went well, although there were delays because his white cell count was too low at times. He spent a few days in hospital with an infection during the treatment. A follow-up CT scan showed a good response to the chemotherapy, and he was optimistic.
Three years later, Paul’s doctor found another lump in his chest cavity. After a series of biopsies and a chest operation, he was diagnosed with indolent follicular lymphoma.
“The bad news this time around was that I was told indolent lymphoma is a chronic disease. It was slow growing, but incurable,” says Paul.
After a month-long series of daily radiotherapy sessions, a CT scan showed the tumour had responded well. Paul went back to regular check-ups with his doctor to monitor his condition.
Five years later in 2015, Paul’s doctor ordered follow-up scans and biopsies, which showed the tumour had grown again, and the lymphoma had spread to his lymph nodes.
“I went back into treatment, and this time I underwent six courses of a different chemotherapy treatment called R-CVP,” says Paul.
Towards the end of treatment, Paul’s medical team recommended he then have an autologous stem cell transplant.
“To be honest, it was a very hard decision. I was told the transplant wouldn’t cure the lymphoma, but could give me a greater time in remission. I also knew there were risks involved, and I felt physically exhausted after six months of chemotherapy.”
A friend put him in touch with someone who had gone through a stem cell transplant, which helped him weigh up all his options.
“She was fantastic because she didn’t gloss over the bad bits and was positive, but realistic about what to expect. This was very helpful!”
Deciding to go through with the process, he spent three weeks in Auckland City Hospital in April 2016 having the transplant.
“I thought I’d managed my previous treatments quite well, but I found the transplant really gruelling. I was impatient to feel well again, and I felt like the recovery progress was frustratingly slow,” says Paul.
“Exercise was difficult at first, but gradually my strength and fitness returned.”
“My partner Caroline took five weeks off work to care for me while I was in hospital and afterwards. It was a difficult time for both of us, but she was very supportive through it all,” says Paul. “And the staff at the Haematology Unit were very professional throughout the process.
“I’m also really grateful to LBC – I’ve found their visiting speakers really interesting, and Support Services Coordinator Tim has been a great support at times when I needed to make treatment decisions.”
Eighteen months on, Paul is able to see the huge amount of progress he has made and is happy to be feeling well again.
“I’m enjoying time with my friends and family, and I’m even able to run around after my two grandsons when they come to stay. My work has now taken a back seat, and I’m more interested in pursuing my interests: playing guitar and bass in several musical groups, bush walks and reading.
“I’m looking forward to more travel too now that I’m feeling up to it. I’m very grateful to have this extra time at this stage of my life!”