Loyal, strong, determined, resilient, compassionate, honest, and brave. Charles Frederick Porter II was born in Oxford England to an English mother with Jewish roots and an African American father from Annapolis, Md. Charles thrived in sports as well as academia and eventually received a full athletic scholarship to Duke University. Almost a decade later, in 2010, he was diagnosed with stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. In May of 2015, he had a relapse but it was caught at an early stage.
This is part two of Charles’ cancer journey, “A Dose of Diagnoses. Click here to read part one.
We knew something was wrong before the doctor came back to the room, we just did not know how bad it was until the eighth day in the hospital. Each day leading up to the diagnosis was met with test after test, including biopsies, scans and non stop blood work. On day eight all of the findings led to a diagnosis of stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
My first reaction was of joy because that was followed by the doctors and my mother saying that Hodgkins is a curable disease. “So you’re saying there’s a chance.” From that point on I did not want to know how bad my situation was or exactly where the tumors were. My mother and girlfriend, now wife, were brave enough to hear the specifics allowing me to simply focus on getting better.
Some may be thinking, this must have been a scary time in my life. The truth is that it was so overwhelming and the information was coming in so fast I really did not have time to be scared. Also my friends and family did an amazing job of keeping positive and holding onto the possibilities of beating the disease.
Throughout those eight days in the hospital the one rule that remained constant was absolutely no crying, apologizing or negativity allowed in the room or around me. What those did in the hallways of the hospital or in privacy, I would never know until after I heard those magic words, FULL REMISSION.
If by me telling my story inspires one patient, carer, doctor, nurse, close family member or friend then this time spent was truly worth every second. I assure you that a strong and positive mental attitude will see you through some of your toughest days.
After five months of chemo ranging from strengths of this is doable to this is doing me in and will it ever end, the scans showed that I was in a partial remission. This was required in order for me to undergo a stem cell transplant at UCLA Medical. So we geared up mentally and emotionally for what we were told would be very challenging though rewarding two months. The chemo was Salvage and it was savage. I could not eat, I could not drink, the skin on my hands simply slid off. This treatment killed the good and the bad cells but my mind remained strong and positive thoughts and laughter got me through the days.
There was one time in particular when I considered stopping the process. I believe it was day four of the five day full body, twice a day radiation segment of the transplant. I thought to myself that there is no way that I can undergo one more treatment of this therapy and I actually said the words to my mother. “Mom, I do not want to do this anymore.” I was broken, I was weak, and I was mad at myself for even thinking this let alone saying out loud. My mother looked me in the eyes and said, “just one more day.” I believed her and that was enough to get me to close my eyes, go to sleep and recharge for the final day of the five day radiation therapy.
Simultaneously, I was receiving the Salvage chemo so it was a double dose of pain. Once my immune system was totally depleted and the cancer was no longer detectable, the transplant took place. I had no signs of the disease in my bone marrow so I was able to use my own stem cells for the transplant. The recovery time for the transplant was about a month. I could not leave the hospital floor let alone go outside for fresh air. The only thing that I could do was take my laps and think of brighter days.
Thankfully I got my transplant during March Madness so sports was a great distraction from the pain. Also I was fortunate to have a wonderful rotation of nurses that kept my spirits high and one even talk trashed as her beloved Wildcats beat my Blue Devils in the Sweet 16.I looked for the silver lining in each day and nine times out of ten, I found it.
Almost a month to the day after entering the transplant unit I was released back into the wild. We were able to raise my white blood cell level high enough to survive in the real world. Starting with one lap a day around the unit and getting it up to as many as I could felt like a major accomplishment in itself but to feel the sun on my face and to feel the breeze once again was like being reborn.
Taking in a deep breath I looked back at the entrance of Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, gave it and all the staff from the top down thanks and got in the passenger seat to go home. I left the hospital cancer free, the battle was won, and was extremely thankful but the war was not over.
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