Being diagnosed with cancer can be a world-shaking experience. Going through the necessary chemotherapy and radiation treatment to beat cancer can be a difficult struggle, but coming out cancer-free feels incredibly liberating.
Maybe it’s that feeling of having beaten cancer that can make suffering a relapse or recurrence of the disease so much more difficult. While it’s certainly possible to beat cancer for a second time, the cycle of repeated battles with the disease and the fear of possibly relapsing again can be mentally and emotionally draining.
Despite the toll that cancer takes on an individual, some inspirational individuals manage to keep fighting the disease while maintaining a positive outlook at the same time. Phil Kerslake is a remarkable example of a cancer patient who never gave up hope in his fight against cancer, even though he’s relapsed eight times.
More about Phil
Some people have claimed that Phil Kerslake is the most prolific cancer survivor in his home country of New Zealand, or perhaps even the entire world. After having successfully battled cancer eight different times, that label might be accurate, but it’s certainly not one that Kerslake enjoys. If it were up to him, Kerslake would have avoided the struggle against cancer altogether. He notes that it’s a difficult illness that places all kinds of different strain on an individual. Unfortunately, it wasn’t up to him, and Kerslake does his best to take the life he’s been given in stride.
Kerslake was first diagnosed with lymphoma when he was just 19 years old. At the time doctors told him that the disease would be terminal and that he would not have much longer to live. Nonetheless, Kerslake pursued aggressive treatment including cycles of chemotherapy. In contrast to the predictions that his doctors had made, Kerslake beat lymphoma when he was 19, and then he went on to beat it six more times throughout his life. Close to 60 now, Kerslake reflects on both the ways his ongoing battles with cancer has shaped his life, and on ways that his extreme experience allows him to be empathetic and helpful for other individuals walking through similar stages of life.
Treatment for relapse
In some ways, Kerslake’s experience is less remarkable than it might seem at first. While every cancer diagnosis is traumatic, and while any experience with a relapse can be an emotionally crushing experience, the number of individuals diagnosed with cancer has been steadily rising around the world. In Kerslake’s home country of New Zealand, statistics indicate that one in three individuals are likely to experience some kind of cancer in their lifetime. Lymphoma is the sixth most common form of cancer in New Zealand, and it’s among the variations of the disease that is seeing a steady increase in number of reported cases. Lymphoma is also one of the most common cancers among people in the 15-24-year-old age range, so it’s less surprising that Kerslake was diagnosed with Lymphoma and not another form of cancer when he was 19.
When it comes to cases of relapse, the story gets a little more complicated. Fortunately, a fair bit of research has been done on blood cancers, and especially lymphoma. Because of that research, there are actually a number of effective first line treatment options for lymphoma patients that have a fairly high success rate. Even among patients who relapse or whose cancer becomes immune to first line treatment, there are a fair number of secondary options that can still prove effective.
Despite the variety of treatment options available for lymphoma patients, the prevalence of relapse remains a mystery. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why patients relapse or what will make them more or less likely to experience a relapse, although they do have several theories. Some research indicates that the stage of the initial disease, the patient’s age, the patient’s gender (men are more likely than women to relapse), hemoglobin levels, white blood cell counts, aluminum levels, and lymphocyte levels may all have something to do with a patient’s likelihood of relapse. Although those factors have been identified, they compromise a relatively long and diverse list of different of things that could potentially contribute to a relapse.
When it comes to treating patients who are experiencing cancer for the second – or in Kerslake’s case eighth time – there are several different options for treatment. If a patient is experiencing a relapse but the cancer has not grown resistant to first line treatment, then medical professionals may opt to continue with the same treatment cycle that was initially successful. For patients experiencing a refractory lymphoma that has adapted and become resistant to treatment the first step is usually to prescribe a cycle of high dose platinum or gemcitabine based chemotherapy. Medical professionals have found success with several different combinations of chemotherapy drugs. Additionally, researchers are continuing to look for additional methods that can effectively treat lymphoma both in first occurrences and in relapses.
The importance of positivity
Although Kerslake notes that medical providers and treatments through methods such as chemotherapy were certainly invaluable to his survival, he also discusses another factor that he believes has played a big role in his survival: a positive attitude. When asked how Kerslake survived his eight different battles with cancer, he reported that the primary factor that kept him alive was stubbornness; he refused to die from cancer. Nearing age 60 and having survived cancer eight different times, it’s hard to argue with Kerslake. He believed he would not die from cancer, and he refused to die from cancer, so he continued to aggressively fight the disease each time it relapsed.
Kerslake’s positive attitude certainly played some part in his survival. Information indicates that good overall health contributes to successful treatment. By maintaining a positive attitude, patients may increase their resilience. Positivity can also help greatly reduce stress, which has been indicated as a factor that can have serious negative consequences for an individual’s health. We should note that at this point there isn’t any medical research that indicates a positive attitude will have a major impact on a patient’s chances of surviving cancer, and there’s definitely no research that points to positivity as a cure for cancer. But, as Kerslake discusses, a patient’s outlook can be a significant part of the treatment process. At the very least, a positive attitude can help keep a patient in good spirits and reduce stress which may allow the patient to focus his or her energy on other areas of life that are more pressing and could have a bigger impact on a treatment’s success. Although there isn’t any research to back-up Kerslake’s claim at this point, his own testimony may be enough to encourage patients to maintain persistence and positivity when facing cancer.
Blood cancers are some of the most prevalent in societies. Although the number of individuals who will suffer from some form of cancer in their lifetime may be rising, receiving a cancer diagnosis is still a traumatic experience. Battling cancer, and eventually beating cancer is a physically, emotionally, and mentally draining experience. Having to go through that experience again can be exponentially more draining, and in the case of Phil Kerslake, having to repeat it eight times can be quite a challenge. Thankfully, however, individuals like Kerslake are a testament both to the strides the medical community has taken to develop effective cancer treatments, and to the resilience of the human spirit.
You can read more about Phil Kerslake at Newshub.co, and you can read more about treatments for lymphoma relapse at Lymphoma.org.