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Doctor, patient successfully tag team rare cancer

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Doctor, patient successfully tag team rare cancer

Dr. Prabhjit Purewal and Mantle Cell Lymphoma survivor Dan Edward look over a medical chart. More than five years after being diagnosed with the rare cancer, Edward is symptom free and living happi...

JASON CAMPBELL/The Bulletin


POSTED April 24, 2012 1:02 a.m.

Dan Edward can hear the words like it was yesterday.

“You guys aren’t going to grow old together.”

That was the news dealt to the retired airline worker just after he was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer in his lymph nodes.

And it came the day after he learned that his mother had passed away.

While the one-two punch was hands-down “the toughest” of his life, the fight that would soon be facing against Mantle Cell Lymphoma – only 1,500 diagnosed cases exist in the United States – would give it a run for its money.

“It was definitely a tough day with everything that was going on, but it wasn’t what I thought it would be like,” said Edward, who lost his 30-year-old brother to lung cancer. “My first thought wasn’t about dying. I just didn’t want this thing to define me. I don’t want to be ‘Dan that died of cancer.’

“But you wonder about things like that. Am I going to be here long enough to get that first Social Security check?”

The revelation turned Edward’s entire world upside down and began to cast new light on things as human mortality started to become a topic of conversation.

But he had a secret weapon up his sleeve.

Dr. Prabhjit Purewal.

The local oncologist – who also has a standing fellowship at Stanford – helped calm the fears of his new and nervous patient and helped put both the disease and how to deal with it into the proper perspective.

It’s the kind of insight you’d expect from a doctor who spent time working with Mother Teresa and kept in close contact with doctors at Stanford University researching breakthroughs and cutting edge treatments.

In the eyes of Edward, it made all the difference in the world.

“He said not to sit at home on the computer all day long wasting my time – to leave the treatment and how to proceed up to him,” Edward said. “He said go out and live your life. Appreciate the things that you have.”

That’s exactly what he did.

Thanks to crafty scheduling and Purewal’s willingness to work with the family, Edward was not only able to attend his daughter’s wedding, but do so without the post-chemotherapy illness that crept up as a byproduct of the harsh radioactive chemicals.

He and wife Jo Ann also got the chance to attend their grandson’s fifth birthday party and have since taken time to travel overseas. They’ve also set sail on three cruises.

It was during a trip to visit their daughter in Georgia – less than one year after the initial diagnosis – that Edward was first introduced to the American Cancer Society Relay for Life.

They’ll be participating in the upcoming event that kicks off on Saturday, April 28, at Sierra High School.

“You know that you’re not alone when you get diagnosed with cancer, but sometimes it can feel that way,” he said. “I think the relay shows people who are fighting it right now that there are survivors and motivates them not to give up the fight. Chemo makes you sick but it’s also mentally draining as well.”

Getting out into the public, Edward said, and doing things was a great way to break up the monotony that came with receiving the treatments – a dosage of chemicals that one nurse told him was “the strongest that she had ever seen.”

It also allowed him to work towards the end goal of undergoing a stem cell transplant to help replenish an immune system that was ravaged by the extreme treatment that Purewal prescribed.

Within a year he’d be training with members of the United States Olympic Team to get himself physically ready to undergo the new procedure. It is just one of the added blessings that have come as a byproduct of the fight he’s currently winning on the scorecards.

“I had to be in peak physical shape in order to receive this treatment and I started training with a few Olympic athletes out on Rough and Ready Island in Stockton – they had a facility setup out there,” Edward said – adding that Purewal, a competition-level cyclist, helped organize the workouts. “They welcomed me in like I was part of the family. It was amazing. They were so good to me.

“When it came time to say goodbyes I knew that they’d be going off to the US trials in Oregon and I’d be going to Stanford. Some of them did really well.”

And Edward isn’t doing too shabby himself.

Six years after first being diagnosed he’s living happily knowing that he’s so far defied the odds – the five-year survival rate for those afflicted with that type of cancer is roughly 50 percent.

Edward says that he’s diligent about getting checked every six months for any changes, and knows that it’s possible that it could show back up again. Focusing on the multitude of blessings in his life, he says, is a much better way to keep his mind occupied.

Whether it’s riding his Harley, fixing up broken bicycles for local non-profit Love INC or building a violin, Edward says that everything he gets to do today is a gift.

“Its jaw-dropping to think about how much I’ve changed since I first heard those words,” he said – adding that he’s gearing up for a trip to his high school reunion and is currently building a violin. “It’s kind of like you’re reborn. It makes you realize that the world is bigger than just you – even when you’re facing something like this.”

 

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