BREYANZI is a prescription medicine used to treat large B cell lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, when:
I remember watching while they were
putting the CAR T cells into me. I felt
hopeful that things were going to start
turning around. This was our fresh start.
Burning buildings didn’t faze Nick. Heights? No problem. When some people run from a problem, Nick suited up and ran toward it—especially if it meant saving someone else’s life. And yet after being diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), the ever-optimistic firefighter was almost stopped in his tracks.
His fight began at a time in his life when everything seemed to be unfolding exactly as he planned. Nick was living out his dream: Working as a firefighter and married to the love of his life, Rachel. At age 31, they were looking forward to starting their family and building their lives together.
Then Nick felt a bump below his collarbone. When more bumps appeared, he made an appointment with his doctor. “I hid our suspicions from the chief and my brothers at the firehouse,” he says. “I didn’t want them to question my ability to work and mark me as sick.”
A PET scan found cancer in Nick’s bones and riddled throughout his body. As his condition continued to deteriorate, he was admitted to the hospital. There, he was finally diagnosed with DLBCL.
I hid our suspicions from the chief and my brothers at the firehouse. I didn’t want them to question my ability to work and mark me as sick.
When Nick’s final round of chemo ended, his friends and family celebrated. They thought the nightmare was behind them. But the following month when Nick returned for a follow-up PET scan, it showed a spot on his liver. The cancer was still there.
Again, Nick and Rachel consulted with his oncologist to determine the next step. Nick signed up for a clinical trial and saw almost immediate results. He had a clear scan. It was the miracle they hoped for. “Everyone was so happy!” says Nick. “My doctor was pleased, but he knew we had to do a stem cell transplant or it would come back.”
While he was preparing for the transplant, Nick saw a report on the news about CAR T cell therapy, which is made from a patient’s own white blood cells. If the stem cell transplant failed, could CAR T cell therapy be an option for him?
Everyone was so happy! My doctor was pleased, but he knew we had to do a stem cell transplant or it would come back.
His transplant went well, and Rachel and Nick began to make plans for the summer. “We were ready to end our journey with cancer,” says Nick. “But a PET scan showed a spot in the middle of my chest. The DLBCL was back.”
Because he had received at least 2 previous treatments that didn't work or stopped working, Nick asked his oncologist about a CAR T cell therapy clinical trial. They discussed the trial that would later lead to the approval of Breyanzi, and they discussed side effects that can be life-threatening and can lead to death, including cytokine release syndrome and neurologic toxicity. They also discussed other common side effects, such as fatigue, severe nausea, severe diarrhea, and infections. Nick and his oncologist felt Breyanzi was the right choice for him, and he put his name on the list. He was number 21.
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We were ready to end our journey with cancer. But a PET scan showed a spot in the middle of my chest. The DLBCL was back.
In the meantime, Nick and Rachel decided to move forward with their baby plans. While Nick waited for his place in the Breyanzi clinical trial, Rachel started the in vitro process.
Soon they received some wonderful, well-timed news: Rachel was pregnant. Then a few weeks later more good news came: Nick’s number was called for CAR T. He was next in line for the trial.
To prepare for Breyanzi, Nick underwent another round of chemo. Although it took a toll on his body and spirit, the potential of the new therapy helped pull him through those difficult days.
At last, the day arrived for Nick to receive his Breyanzi treatment. “I remember watching while they were putting the CAR T cells into me, and I was looking at Rachel the entire time,” Nick says. “I felt hopeful that things were going to start turning around. This was our fresh start. Nothing else mattered except us and what was occurring at that moment.”
Nick remained in the hospital to be monitored and treated for side effects. The doctors monitored his bloodwork closely and confirmed his progress. Side effects with Breyanzi treatment will vary from patient to patient. Breyanzi can cause side effects that may be life-threatening and can lead to death, such as cytokine release syndrome and neurologic toxicities. Because of the risk of cytokine release syndrome, neurologic toxicity, and other side effects, patients like Nick must remain at, or close to, where they received treatment for at least 4 weeks after the infusion for side effect monitoring.
I felt hopeful that things were going to start turning around. This was our fresh start. Nothing else mattered except us and what was occurring at that moment.
Nick returned home after being monitored for side effects, and Rachel and Nick found out they were having a girl. Nick painted the nursery pink, and they spent days strolling around baby stores picking out baby clothes and furniture. Rachel and Nick joined their families around the table filled with gratitude for the possibilities that seemed in reach. Over time, Nick felt well enough to return to work at the firehouse.
Then, a PET scan revealed the news they prayed for: Nick’s cancer was in remission. But the test that Nick was interested in was day 100. That was the scan where the cancer showed up last time. “I knew my remission might not last,” says Nick. “A lot weighed on that scan. Part of me said it was too good to be true.” After the 100-day scan, his oncologist came in with good news. The scan was clear.
Nick and Rachel welcomed their daughter, Julia. His next scan was scheduled for the following week. Now, with so much more to live for, the news that he was still in remission brought a renewed appreciation for life and for Breyanzi.
While Nick’s scan showed that he was in remission, it does not mean he is cancer-free. Nick continues to be monitored for possible disease recurrence and long-term side effects from CAR T cell therapy.
Today, Nick is fully focused on the future as he watches Julia grow up and continues to give back to his community as a firefighter and a cancer survivor. And he’s found a way to merge his 2 passions by mentoring firefighters who are diagnosed with cancer. “It’s so important to find the silver lining,” he says. “Acknowledge your fears and talk about them, but stay optimistic. There are several options in cancer treatment out there. Stay open to the possibilities.”
Acknowledge your fears and talk about them, but stay optimistic. There are several options in cancer treatment out there. Stay open to the possibilities.