A painful swelling in his neck led to an Abu Dhabi resident being diagnosed with two separate forms of cancer at the same time, a rare occurrence that saw him enter a battle with the disease that would take 15 months to beat.
It was in April 2019 that Sajjad (not his real name), a 35-year-old oil worker in Abu Dhabi, noticed a painful swelling at the base of his neck. Despite taking anti-inflammatory medication, he saw no improvement over the following weeks. As a result, his doctor suggested that he get a biopsy of the area.
“When I went back to my doctor complaining there hadn’t been an improvement, he told me the chances my swelling was anything serious were low but that it was best to rule it out. Looking back, I could never have imagined that I’d be diagnosed with not one but two different types of cancer,” explains Sajjad.
The results of Sajjad’s biopsy indicated he had non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a form of blood cancer. Given his diagnosis, his care team ordered a full body PET scan to ensure the cancer hadn’t spread to other parts of his body. While the scan showed it hadn’t spread, it also showed an area of cancerous cells in Sajjad’s rectum, indicating he was also suffering from colorectal cancer.
“When Sajjad’s PET scan came back, there was an area that lit up, incidental to the lymphoma. Follow-up tests including a colonoscopy confirmed we were dealing with both rectal cancer and lymphoma, which is extremely rare, especially in someone so young. After discussion with his oncologist, we designed an integrated treatment plan for both cancers,” explains Dr. Shafik Sidani, a colorectal surgeon at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, an integral part of Mubadala Health.
The PET scan and an MRI revealed that the cancer involved a lymph node near the rectum. An endorectal ultrasound guided biopsy showed that the cells were specifically rectal cancer and not related to his lymphoma, meaning the cancer had begun to spread. Sajjad’s care team opted to begin with chemotherapy to treat his lymphoma followed by a combined course of radiation therapy for both the lymphoma and rectal cancer.
“Balancing the stress of the illness, the side effects from the treatment as well as my work and family seemed an almost impossible task. It was a really difficult time. I have a young family and the treatments really make you feel terrible. Just as I felt I was getting over the side effects it would be time for the next session,” explains Sajjad. “However, the support I received from the team at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi helped pull me through.”
After his chemotherapy and radiation treatments were complete, Sajjad’s lymphoma appeared to be in remission. His care team then moved to the final stage of treatment for his rectal cancer, a surgery to remove his rectum along with the lymph node that they had previously identified.
“My sister is a doctor in the United States, and she followed every step of my treatment very closely. When it came time for my surgery, she insisted I only consider robotic surgery as it is minimally invasive and has a much faster recovery time. After my experience with chemotherapy and radiation, that appealed to me greatly. Happily, Dr Sidani agreed it would be the best approach for my needs,”
Following his successful surgery, Sajjad used a temporary ostomy bag while he recovered. After a final round of chemotherapy, Sajjad in now cancer free, his ileostomy bag has been reversed, and he is able to focus on his family and future.
“When you go through an experience like this, it makes you reflect on what’s really important. I’m definitely trying to live a healthier life now, avoiding junk food and getting more exercise. My message to the community is to do everything you can to protect yourself – get screened and keep on top of your health,” concludes Sajjad.
“Sajjad was really a champion through his whole journey. His diagnosis could have been crushing but he faced up to it and made a fantastic recovery. His lymphoma diagnosis is what led to his cancer being spotted, which is maybe a silver lining in all this. By catching it early, Sajjad had a much better chance of making the recovery he did,” concludes Dr. Sidani.
Physicians recommend that people begin regular screening for colon cancer at the age of 40 in the UAE. People at higher risk should begin screening at a younger age. Anyone who develops symptoms should consult their doctor as soon as possible, no matter their age.
Source: Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi