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Since his chest surgery and chemotherapy at Henry Ford Allegiance Health in 2010, Tom has had regular cancer check-ups and was recently told there is no need to go back. Now working full time and active as ever, Tom refers to his cancer journey as “our little inconvenience.”
Back in 2010, everyone was surprised by Tom’s cancer diagnosis. Besides being a non-smoker with no family history of cancer, Tom jokingly described himself as a “physical rock star.” A lifetime of physical work, such as cutting wood, farming, construction and 20 years of loading for a packing plant had made him strong and fit. Cancer, however, can affect anyone.
Tom was feeling well and hadn’t had any chest pain or breathing difficulty when he went for his annual physical. His only complaint was that he’d been having night sweats. The physical included a chest x-ray, which revealed an eight-centimeter tumor (about the size of a coffee cup) on the left side of Tom’s chest wall.
Tom and his wife, Renee, chose to go to Henry Ford Allegiance Health, where thoracic surgeon Mohan Kulkarni, M.D., performed surgery to diagnose and remove the tumor, which had moved into Tom’s lung but not to the lung lymph nodes. The biopsy results confirmed Tom had Stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma — a type of cancer that affects only one to two percent of men Tom’s age.
“I was lost for words,” Tom recalled. “A cancer diagnosis really opens your eyes to the fragility of your health and your life.” Renee was concerned as well, but she reacted with optimism. “I gave Tom 10 minutes to feel sorry for himself and be scared, then it was time to start planning treatment,” she said.
The Sawdeys next consulted with hematologist oncologist Malcom Trimble, M.D., who laid out a treatment plan that included 12 rounds of chemotherapy. “Dr. Trimble was confident I would recover and said that I was much more likely to die on my motorcycle than from this cancer,” Tom said. He and Renee wanted to get a second opinion, and Dr. Trimble encouraged them to do so. “The second doctor completely concurred with Dr. Trimble’s diagnosis and treatment recommendations and that gave us even more confidence,” Tom said.
Recovery required a good deal of strength, so Tom’s fitness was an advantage. “Because I am left-handed, the left-side surgery affected me even more,” Tom said. “I am still building muscle back.”
Renee’s optimism helped them both through the ordeal. “You have to be strong for each other,” she said. “We can’t control what is happening, but we can control where we let our minds go. I know my encouragement helped pull Tom out of dark places.”
The Oncology care team at Henry Ford Allegiance Health also made a positive difference. “Everyone was knowledgeable, and it was comforting to be taken care of by people who understood what I was going through,” Tom said. “I felt safe in their care.”
Once home, Tom got active right away, beginning slowly. “I took little walks on my property using a garbage can as a walker, and I used my chest pillow to help me bend down to pick up sticks. The sight of that scared the neighbors,” Tom laughed. “But I had to move. I had to do something.”
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