A Florida man has revealed that his subtle flu-like symptoms turned out to be cancer.
Michael Cramer, 21, didn’t think anything of the fatigue and lack of appetite. He thought he was just tired or coming down with a virus.
However, his health deteriorated quickly, and in July 2020, he was diagnosed with lymphoma. Just four years prior, his father had died of the same cancer.
‘When I first heard the words cancer I was shocked,’ Mr Cramer told NeedToKnow.co.uk.
Michael Cramer, now 21, was diagnosed with lymphoma in July 2020. He initially dismissed his symptoms, which included fatigue and lack of appetite
Mr Cramer said he felt unprepared for the side effects of cancer treatment, which included chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant, irradiation and radiation
Mr Cramer’s father, Patrice, passed from the disease May 2016 at age 61.
‘It was devastating to hear the words ‘lymphoma’ because that’s what my father passed away from,’ Mr Cramer said.
‘The doctor also tried to protect me, but after doing my own research online, I discovered the survival rate was just 15 percent.’
Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymph nodes, the body’s disease-fighting network, which includes the spleen, bone marrow, lymph nodes, and thymus gland.
There are several subtypes of lymphoma, but the two most common are non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin.
Non-Hodgkin lymphoma can occur anywhere in the body but is usually first noticed in the lymph nodes around sufferers’ necks. It affects around 80,000 people in the United States every year, as well as 14,000 in the United Kingdom.
Before being diagnosed with cancer, Mr Cramer spent much of his time windsurfing and sailing. Now, chronic conditions from treatment have made physical activity difficult
Hodgkin’s lymphoma starts in the white blood cells. This type is less common, with about 8,500 diagnoses in the US per years and 2,000 in the UK.
According to the American Cancer Society, survival rates for both subsets can widely vary. Nearly three quarters of those with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma survive after five years when the cancer is caught at early stages. Once the disease has spread, more than half will live more than five years.
In Hodgkin lymphoma, anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of patients are expected to survive after five years.
Typical symptoms include swelling in the armpits, neck, or groin, night sweats, weight loss, itching, shortness of breath, and coughing.
Mr Cramer felt unprepared for the side effects of cancer treatment, and after chemotherapy, a bone marrow transplant, irradiation and radiation, he developed chronic graft versus host disease (GVHD).
GVHD is a complication from an allogenic stem cell transplantation, during which donated stem cells replace unhealthy ones. In Mr Cramer’s case, the donor stem cells attacked his major organs.
He will need ‘several years’ of treatments, including extracorporeal photopheresis, which stops the white blood cells lymphocytes from attacking the body’s immune system.
Mr Cramer also developed osteoporosis, which diminishes the mineral density and mass of the bones, weakening them and increasing the likelihood of fractures.
Cancer medications also caused avascular necrosis, which reduces blood supply to the bones. This kills off bone tissue. The condition makes it difficult for him to work out, lift heavy objects, or even climb stairs.
‘All of my bones and joints are destroyed from treatment. My knees, elbows, and shoulders have so much pain,’ Mr Cramer said.
‘Cancer and its complications are much more complex than I thought previously.’
Ashlee, Mr Cramer’s mother, gave up her career to take care of her son full-time. ‘My mom is the sole reason I got through everything, she never left my side even during my darkest moments — she lifted me up, kept me going and is my inspiration,’ Mr Cramer said.
Mr Cramer’s father, Patrice, died of lymphoma in 2016 at age 61. Mr Cramer used his father’s memory to keep fighting through treatment. ‘[My siblings] already lost their father to cancer. I cannot have them lose their brother,’ he said
Despite these complications, Mr Cramer used his father’s memory to keep fighting. He pushed on for his siblings, Steven, 23, and Jennifer, 19.
‘[My siblings] already lost their father to cancer. I cannot have them lose their brother,’ Mr Cramer said.
Additionally, his mother, Ashlee, 51, gave up her career to take care of him full-time.
‘My mom is the sole reason I got through everything, she never left my side even during my darkest moments — she lifted me up, kept me going and is my inspiration,’ Mr Cramer said.
After three months of treatment, he had no signs of cancer remaining.
Despite the lasting effects of his treatment, Mr Cramer is currently enjoying remission and says that daily pain aside, the fact that he’s living, is reward enough.
‘I still am in treatment two to four days a week, life is hard, but I am still in remission — I am just very grateful to still be alive,’ he said.
‘My advice to others is that life is short — live it to the fullest, and tell everyone and anyone you love, that you love them.’
‘Do what makes you happy as often as you can, appreciate what you have and do not compare yourself to others — be grateful for your health.’