The Connection Between Lupus and Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma
When I got my lupus diagnosis, I never imagined that I would also get diagnosed with cancer. Especially at the young age of 33. Most of my virtual lupus friends had other autoimmune diseases so I was bracing myself for that.
Lupus had started attacking my kidneys, so I was bracing myself that over time it would get worse. I was lucky to have caught it early, and was only at a stage 2. And luckily with medication we have been able to control the kidney damage.
Even though there is a connection between lupus patients and cancer, it was also something that was never discussed with my rheumatologist or anyone on my care team. I’m not sure if it was because they didn’t want to scare me, or if it was because they were just so hopeful I wouldn’t get a diagnosis like that.
So, when I got my Sjogrens syndrome and non-Hodgkins lymphoma diagnosis at the same time, I was in utter shock.
Lifestyle changes with lupus
Because of my lupus diagnosis, I had already made some lifestyle changes.
I stopped drinking alcohol and I never smoked. I also started wearing more sunscreen since the sun was a huge trigger for my flares. My diet also changed and fast food was just an occasional meal. I had my full 8 hours of sleep. I tried to limit my stress levels.
So, I thought I was taking steps to prevent anything else from happening to my body, but that was just not enough.
A cancer diagnosis
After my diagnosis, I reached out to my online community to find strength and guidance to get through this. It was so hard to process and it felt like I was in a daze. I wanted to see if there were other people who had to go through what I was going through.
But, no one was in a similar situation. Google then became my best friend. I began researching and reading anything I could find online, since my oncologist and rheumatologist appointments were weeks away.
Lupus and lymphoma
There are two types of lymphoma, non-Hodgkins lymphoma and Hodgkins lymphoma, which is a cancer of the blood. Just like lupus, this type of cancer also varies from person to person.
Normally lymphoma starts in the lymph nodes but can develop in other parts of the body like mine did. Mine started out in my parotid gland and slowly spread to other parts of my body. Symptoms also vary by individual. I didn’t have the typical cancer symptoms. My only symptoms were dry mouth and a swollen gland.
Both lupus and lymphoma deal with the immune system so it is not shocking to find the correlation between these two. Other factors to consider include medication, comorbidities, genetics, gender, age, race, how long patients have had lupus and more. These are things that are important to discuss with your own doctor.
Treating cancer and lupus
My first positron emission tomography (PET)/computed tomography (CT) scan showed that my lymphoma spread, and I am considered a stage 3. I am still navigating my new normal and have begun treatment. I started 4 weeks of Rituxan which has been approved to treat non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Not surprising, is that this medication has also been given off label to treat lupus. So, my doctors are hopeful that my infusions can treat not only my cancer but my lupus as well.
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