Matt Randall feels like maybe he was just born unlucky, though that doesn’t keep him from having a positive attitude about life.
At the age of one, he was diagnosed with Wilms tumor, a type of kidney cancer usually found in children. He had surgery, and for three years he enjoyed a healthy childhood with his family in Tacoma. But when he was four, his Wilms tumor came back, along with a recurrent pulmonary tumor. He was treated with chemotherapy and radiation for a year. At times, his doctors feared he wouldn’t make it. But he persevered. “I think it’s given me a special appreciation for the chance to still be here, hopefully for a purpose,” says Matt.
For years afterward, he remained in remission. But he always suspected that it was more of a matter of when, rather than if, his cancer would return. So, it didn’t come as a complete shock to Matt when he was diagnosed with cancer again years later.
In 2020, when Matt was 27, he went to UW Medical Center at Montlake to seek treatment for pneumonia. He was also suffering from night sweats and some other odd symptoms. The doctors there ordered a CT scan that showed enlarged lymph nodes. Because of his enlarged nodes, his doctors conducted several biopsies, and he was diagnosed with nodular lymphocyte-predominant Hodgkin lymphoma, a rare lymphoma subtype. It is extremely slow growing and had likely been developing for years.
Because the cancer is slow growing, his doctors, including Vikram Raghunathan, MD, at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, recommended monitoring rather than starting chemotherapy. Matt preferred to intervene right away, however. “I went quickly into battle mode,” he says. “I wanted to get rid of it, ASAP. Dr. Raghunathan was totally on board and helped formulate a plan.”
After reviewing his case, the tumor board at Fred Hutch, a group of doctors who analyze a patient, their type of cancer and other variables and make recommendations on treatment, did not believe this new cancer was related to his childhood cancers. Even though no one else in his family has had cancer, Matt opted for genetic testing. Everything came back negative, and the cause of Matt’s lymphoma diagnosis - as with many cancers - is still a mystery.
Because chemotherapy wasn’t the best course of action for this cancer, and because he had already had chemotherapy as a child, Matt and his doctors decided to hold off on that option if Matt had a recurrence down the road. The cancer was localized in lymph nodes, making a form of radiation the best treatment option. And since Matt had received standard radiation before, proton therapy made the most sense.
“Proton therapy can often be used when patients have had prior radiation because it can pinpoint the dose precisely at the tumor and spare surrounding healthy tissue. Like chemotherapy, there is only so much radiation exposure the body can handle before the risks outweigh the benefits,” says Matt’s radiation oncologist at Fred Hutch, Yolanda Tseng, MD.
“Dr. Tseng was amazing,” says Matt. “She was super sweet, compassionate, and knowledgeable. She took time to listen to our questions and answer them thoroughly. In fact, the whole place was great, and the staff was so attentive.”
Matt had proton therapy five days a week for four weeks. His family – including his mother, who is his primary caregiver and a nurse practitioner, joined him at the facility for his first and last treatments and have been wonderfully supportive.
Although patients can bring a person with them to treatments, many don't need to - proton therapy is non-invasive, and many patients return to their usual routine after their treatment session. Matt experienced some fatigue and a long bout of pneumonitis, which is inflammation of the lung tissues that causes shortness of breath and a dry cough. Now that he’s past that, he feels great physically and remains optimistic.
While in proton therapy treatment, Matt took advantage of the on-site registered dietician, and the social worker provided him with some great resources, including a cancer therapy group at Cancer Pathways that he found very helpful.
“Let people take care of you,” says Matt. “I was a bit resistant to that at first, but good people are helping you. Hold fast to faith and know that things happen for a reason. And consider seeking multiple opinions.”
Now Matt is back to doing the activities he loves. He works as a supervisor at a rock-climbing gym in Tacoma and goes rock climbing in Washington, Oregon, and Utah any chance he gets. He’s also learning to fly small aircraft. His grandfather was a fighter pilot in Vietnam and Matt was strongly influenced by pictures of him in uniform. “I also always loved the idea of traveling the country and seeing it from up above,” he adds. Matt would love his first solo flight to be over the Hawaiian Islands.
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