Kalen, 32, battled two different cancers. Time passed quickly before he had to make a decision on his treatment plan. He examined treatment options like alternative therapy and supplemental therapy. Find out what he ultimately chose in his interview story.
Kalen was diagnosed with two separate cancers.
His initial symptoms included feeling consistently drowsy and sluggish after sleeping. So the Miami resident went for a medical exam.
In February, 2017, Kalen was diagnosed with Gray Zone Lymphoma. The rare cancer was detected after a PET scan and chest X-Ray revealed a 10 cm tumor near his heart.
Kalen underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments. He was treated at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami.
“My oncologist recommended to get my thyroid checked out after radiation for lymphoma. I had a thyroid ultrasound and then a consultation, and it was very clear immediately from the ultrasound,” Kalen told SmartBridge Health.
Kalen was then diagnosed with Thyroid Papillary Carcinoma (thyroid cancer). A PET scan found some “thyroid activity” after he finished chemotherapy to treat the lymphoma.
“The doctors told me that it was likely that I had the thyroid cancer longer than the lymphoma,” he said.
The initial focus on the lymphoma may have been the reason the thyroid cancer was not detected in the beginning.
“The best treatment option was to remove the thyroid,” he said.
Kalen confirmed each treatment recommendation with a second opinion from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. His family in Dallas highly regarded the reputation of the medical facility as a place for quality care. “It’s the Disney World of cancer treatment,” he said.
MD Anderson Cancer Center worked with his oncologist at Mount Sinai in Miami. The medical experts agreed on the diagnoses and treatment plans.
“A LIFE AND DEATH DECISION”
Kalen had heard of alternative therapies but chose not to follow.
“I very quickly found limited sources that I trusted,” he said.
Meanwhile, a cancer patient doesn’t have much time to decide on a treatment plan.
“You don’t really start researching cancer until you have cancer. You don’t know anything about it. So when it does happen to you— you, all of a sudden, are in a rush. You are, all of a sudden, faced with a life and death decision.”
While conducting research, Kalen did not find concrete answers.
“I obviously started to research…books on alternative medicine, alternative treatment, everything online. You read and then cross check, and then your mind is completely turned in the opposite direction,” he said.
Kalen consumed cancer information online and on social media posts like Facebook and Twitter. He also joined cancer forums on Reddit. Still, he remained unconvinced on alternative treatments.
“Maybe if I had years to devote researching to this. But I don’t have years, I have weeks. So essentially when I decided, [I thought] I can’t take [the alternative therapy] route.”
Kalen heard anecdotes about people who traveled outside the country to seek alternative treatments. But his doubts lingered.
“After a week’s worth of research— if these alternative methods work, fantastic —but I’m not willing to risk my life to find out. I decided with the help of my parents that personally for me, I am going to put my faith and trust in a medical [treatment] that I can see with my own eyes, that has proven to be effective in X amount of cases.”
CHEMOTHERAPY IS ROUGH
“It was definitely a rough year,” Kalen said of 2017.
He underwent six rounds of chemotherapy. He quickly recovered from the symptoms after the first round of treatment. But he wouldn’t bounce back as quickly after later rounds.
“By the sixth round, I was begging for mercy — it was awful.”
Kalen had a fanny pack with an IV attached from the shoulder to the chest. The chemotherapy was an infusion for 5 days straight, 24 hours a day. Then he was off the treatment for two weeks before starting another round.
Kalen said he was constantly out of energy and chronically in pain at the end of the chemotherapy treatment.
“At the end of the week of chemo, you’re completely exhausted, and you feel like you’ve been poisoned. And you pretty much have been.”
SUPPORT FROM FAMILY AND FRIENDS
Every three weeks, a family member flew to Miami to take care of him and his dog during the round of chemotherapy.
“My family was absolutely fantastic,” said Kalen. He also credits his good network of friends in Miami. They were “just as helpful and eager,” he added.
“All of my emotional needs were met.”
Kalen found supplemental therapy in the book, Anticancer: A New Way of Life, by David Servan-Shreiber, MD, Ph.D. The book examines diet, mental and physical health to boost the body’s ability to fight cancer cells.
Servan-Shreiber was a doctor who fought against his own cancer diagnosis. Kalen found the doctor’s advice to be simple yet effective.
“A book that I found really helpful, called Anticancer, was published by a doctor who found himself diagnosed with brain cancer. [It was] an autobiographical, medical approach to alternative and supplemental therapy,” he said after reading the book.
“It’s all about decreasing risk of getting cancer and what are the things to do to boost treatment. The foods that naturally fight cancer cells, what exercise and mental activity help to fight cancer cells. It was exactly what I wanted to look for.”
WANTED: MORE SUPPLEMENTAL CANCER TREATMENTS
Kalen would like to find more medical experts who pay attention to complementary medicine or holistic treatments to fight cancer.
Currently, the oncologist is only able to recognize treatments that have been proven in double-blind studies.
“If the treatment has not been proven, then the doctor cannot, in good faith, recommend it to patients,” Kalen acknowledged.
But Kalen wishes more medical experts would be open to discussing alternative therapies.
“I would love to find a doctor to bridge that gap. [Someone] who is aware of what’s there and willing to share and put out the disclaimer, ‘Try it at your own risk.’ ”