Ever since our college days, my buddy Toby and I played racquetball. Over the last 25 years, when we visited each other, we’d always work in a match. Last summer, Toby came to Waltham for a visit, and we headed out to the club to play racquetball. About 3 minutes into hitting some warmup swings, my lower back went out. I was on the floor of this glass racquetball court squirming. It sucked. I spent the rest of Toby’s visit horizontal on muscle relaxers. Toby was amazingly supportive and truly didn’t care that his visit was limited to hanging out with his couch-bound zombie friend for the rest of the weekend.
My back had gone out a handful of times before, and it was never easy to recover. I was so irritated by this last setback that I decided I would do whatever it takes to make sure I’m in the best possible shape to prevent another injury like this. As soon as I was able to walk again, I started working out with the goal to be Waltham’s Strongest Man.
I started lifting weights six days a week. By October, I was the strongest I’ve ever been, and my chronic back pain disappeared. I kept the weight lifting up, and eventually my right shoulder started bothering me. Over the next few months, I started to notice that my left pectoral muscle was a little larger than the right. I figured this is probably because I’m compensating for the bad shoulder. After a few more months, I started seeing an orthopedist for the shoulder as it was getting worse. After a few months of physical therapy and a cortisone shot, my shoulder was feeling better in June of 2019. However, the asymmetry of my chest was getting more severe. In my final follow-up appointment with the orthopedist, I asked her if she would expect this much asymmetry because of the shoulder issue. She said it’s most likely a lipoma (a benign fatty tumor) but we should get it imaged just to check. My dog used to get lipomas them all the time. They are no big deal, any they can be removed pretty easily if they get uncomfortable.
I went in for an MRI a couple days later. The next day, my orthopedist called me. I was prepared for her to tell me that I’ve got a little extra fat in my chest. However, she somberly told me that the pathology report shows concern for lymphoma and I need to connect with my primary care physician to address this.
I nearly dropped the phone. I didn’t even know what lymphoma was, but I remembered that words that end in -oma are cancers, so lymphoma must be cancer of the lymphatic system, and none of this can be good news. (I know. I’m a genius.)
As soon as I hung up the phone I called Jamie. I couldn’t believe I was making this phone call. He had just made the same call to me two months prior when he was told that he has melanoma. Then we had just celebrated him being cancer-free when he had his surgery and his lymph node biopsy showed that he was all clear. How is this even possible?