Help Brad Beat Cancer

This summer my husband's brother- in-law, Brad, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.  He began receiving chemo treatments and recently had to pursue a more aggressive form of treatment. Brad and Alyssa have a great deal of friends and family supporting them, but they need our help now more than ever. The cost of past and ongoing treatment is going to be a tremendous financial burden so any financial donation is greatly appreciated. Here is Brad & Alyssa's story:

When I met my husband Brad almost five years ago, he was already a cancer survivor. At 24, he was diagnosed with carcinoma of the parotid gland, a rare form of salivary gland cancer. It was a deadly cancer. If surgery had not been successful, the cancer was 100% fatal.

Over the years, Brad and I had many discussions about how he felt during that time. It was a dark time for him. His father Larry had died of mesothelioma (lung cancer) only a few months before and his family was still reeling from his death when Brad was diagnosed. He moved from California to Texas for a new job, while he waited to hear whether he would live or die.

I had always wished I could have been there for Brad during that time despite being many years before we met. I had always thought that I could have been a comfort to him; give him the support he needed. Unfortunately, now I have that chance.

Brad and I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Minneapolis, Minnesota in March of this year. It was supposed to be a new start, a place to settle – find a great job, throw a big wedding, buy a house, and start a family. For the first time in our lives, we had a plan. And then everything changed.

Brad had been sick on-and-off for months, complaining of respiratory infections, cough and night sweats. Any time he went to the doctor, they would say he was perfectly healthy. After moving to Minnesota, Brad got even sicker. Working as a contract engineer, Brad applied for personal health insurance in June. We waited for the insurance to be approved, thinking that he was suffering from a respiratory infection-turned pneumonia. Finally, we could not wait any longer.

In the afternoon of July 3rd, Brad complained that he was having trouble breathing. We took him to the emergency room, where we sat for two hours in the waiting room, Brad trying to not pass out and me trying to keep him awake. When we finally saw a doctor, it was not immediately apparent what was going on. Because of a strange crackling sound in Brad’s lungs, the doctor ordered a chest X-ray, then a CT scan, and then an echocardiogram, each time coming back with more and more dire news.

The CT scan showed a large tumor in Brad’s chest, which was pushing on all his organs. Both his lungs and heart were being smothered by fluid buildup, called plural- and pericardial-effusions. Brad was immediately admitted to the cardiac intensive care unit, where he spent the next five days fighting for his life. Once the fluid was drained and his lung and heart functions where under control, we were finally able to get a biopsy on the mass. We were shocked by the diagnosis: non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Another shock came when we found out that despite Brad’s health insurance being approved in June, it would not start until August 1st. This meant that none of Brad’s hospital stay – the emergency room, the ICU, the tests and scans and biopsies, and the myriad of health professionals caring for him – would be covered by insurance.

 Upon hearing this news, I started filling out the paperwork to get married – immediately. I reached out to my work who confirmed that Brad would be covered by my insurance on the date we were married.

 The next day, as Brad was moved to the oncology wing and starting treatment, I was in front of a judge getting the 5-day waiting period for marriage licenses waived. We also met with the hospital chaplain, who convinced us to put more effort into the ceremony, instead of just signing the papers. While Brad was having his first 12-hour day of chemotherapy, I was planning a wedding – I found a wedding dress, borrowed accessories from a friend, found a cake, flowers, decorations, and put together a short 10-minute ceremony accompanied by short poems that Brad and I would read.

 In the early hours of July 10th, Brad finished his first round of chemotherapy. At 8:30 a.m., he met me in the Sanctuary at the Fairview Southdale Hospital. Standing in the center of a labyrinth, we exchanged vows and rings and listened to special readings. For a wedding planned in less than 24-hours, it was surprisingly well-attended. Brad’s mom had flown in from Los Angeles when he first entered the hospital, so she was on-hand for the ceremony. My parents and brother and his family drove in from Wisconsin. And my best friend Samantha attended, too – taking on the multiple functions of maid-of-honor, flower girl, ring bearer, and witness. After the ceremony, we walked the halls, delivering the left over cake and coffee to the nurses that took care of Brad and delivering the flowers to patients in the cardiac ICU.

 Brad came home after a week in the hospital. Over the next few chemotherapy sessions, the tumor was shrinking. After the third session, the scans showed that the tumor had shrunk in half. Despite the fact Brad lost his contract position due to the large amounts of time he had to take off from work for his treatments (and no short-term or long-term disability leave), things were looking optimistic.

 After the fifth chemotherapy session, things started changing. Brad was noticing heart palpitations and had an MRI (followed by CT and PET scans) that showed the tumor was growing, despite the chemotherapy. Brad’s cancer – primary mediastinal diffuse B-cell lymphoma – was again a rare form of lymphoma and reacted differently than normal non-Hodgkin’s cancers. When the first-line chemotherapy fails, the prognosis also falls. Feeling defeated, we went to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota for a second opinion on additional treatment.

 We were lucky that in moving to Minnesota, we also moved close to some of the best health care in the world. Brad will be receiving salvage chemotherapy at the Mayo Clinic over the next few months. Afterward, he will be getting a stem cell (auto) transplant and BEAM chemotherapy, which wipes the corrupted white blood cells and bone marrow clean (lymphoma is a blood cancer after all). During this treatment, Brad will need to physically be in Rochester the entire time, which will last about a month. Because the transplant treatment is outpatient, he needs a caretaker with him 24/7, so I will need to take the time off of work so I can be there with him in Rochester.

 We have a long battle ahead of us, but we remain very upbeat and are determined to fight this. We are still planning on having our big wedding in May and, despite the setback, hope to someday get back to our plan to buy a house and start a family. ~ Alyssa Lawson
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Leah Knutson 
Minneapolis, MN
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