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Published on January 25, 2012

Jim Anderson - Patient at KishHealth System Cancer Center

Norma and Jim Anderson

Norma and Jim Anderson

When Jim Anderson fell ill with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in December 2010, there was no question he would seek treatment close to home in DeKalb. “I want to be where people know me and care about what happens to me,” said Anderson, 67, a DeKalb native who has owned Illini Tire in DeKalb since 1976. His local team of doctors from The Cancer Center at Kishwaukee Community Hospital and DeKalb Clinic worked in partnership with Dr. Patrick Stiff, director of Loyola University’s Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center.

Jim calls Norma, his wife of 43 years, his nurse and helper because “I could not have gone through this or kept it all straight without her.” Norma, who also is a native of DeKalb, adds, “Cancer is a family disease. When one family member has cancer, we all ‘have’ it,” she said. The Andersons are the parents of a daughter and son, and have six grandchildren.

Jim's medical problems actually began in July 2010. Jim said, I had a couple of TIAs and was being cared for by Dr. R. Patel in Internal Medicine at the DeKalb Clinic for that. I just wasn't feeling right. For a number of years, had some smaller lumps on my torso and other areas, but could never determine what they were. Well, one morning after showering while getting ready for work, I found dark lesions protruding all over my torso overnight! Dr. Patel had already started some testing, so then I also saw Dr. Amanda Friedrichs, a dermatologist, who biopsied two of the lesions. In the meantime, we were also checking for possible gall bladder problems. Then, we got the results of the biopsy—it was Non-Hodgkins Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma,” said Jim.

Dr. Friedrichs said she has known the Andersons for many years since she is also a DeKalb native. “This truly is a good example of how knowing your patients and your community helped us recognize there was something serious going on. Jim just did not look like himself to me, so even before the biopsy results we were ordering other tests and calling in other specialists,” Dr. Friedrichs said.

Dr. Patel credits Jim and Norma for “staying on top of his illness. It began as a difficult case to diagnose because he had flu-like symptoms. He was tired, run-down, a little anemic, but his cell count was normal. The Andersons did not give up until they had an answer.”

Jim then was seen by Dr. M. Ishaqe Memon, a medical oncology/hematology physician at The Cancer Center at Kishwaukee Community Hospital, and had a blood transfusion to restore his blood count. “From the very beginning, I had people encouraging me to seek treatment or another opinion elsewhere. But from day one I was totally impressed with the quality of care I received locally. The caring people and high standard of care I received have yet to be matched anywhere I’ve been,” said Jim.

“We are singing their praises as loud and often as we can,” added Norma.

Even though Dr. Memon told the Andersons he had never seen anyone with as much cancer in his system as Jim, to their relief he also told them “it’s curable.” Jim began a regimen of strong chemotherapy treatments—four treatments three weeks apart. That was followed by two additional chemo treatments.

“When my PET scan showed all the cancer was gone, Dr. Memon advised me that based on the amount of cancer I had, he felt the chances were very high it would come back and in a short time,” Jim said. “He also told me that because I had such a good attitude, was in good shape physically for my age and had gotten good results from the chemo that he would recommend I have bone marrow stem cell replacement.”

Because the The Cancer Center has a partnership with Loyola University’s Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Dr. Patrick Stiff, its medical director, happened to be visiting DeKalb the same day the Andersons received that recommendation from Dr. Memon. “He consulted with us that day and by the following week, we had made the appointments and arrangements with Loyola in Chicago,” said Norma. 

“When you're at Loyola and they've taken your immune system down to where you are as close to death as you can be, they keep you moving, they keep you motivated. They encourage you to keep fighting. It's truly incredible,” he added.

Dr. Stiff said, “People are living longer and taking better care of themselves. However, we are seeing more leukemias and lymphomas in the Baby Boomer and older populations. We’re not sure why exactly, but are studying environmental factors. We've polluted about everything in our world and the effects seem to be cumulative,” said Dr. Stiff.

Jim has been regaining his strength since returning home in July.

“I did have a setback about three weeks after we got home. I was in church when I started to feel really ill. I made it out to the hallway before I collapsed and they called an ambulance. I really didn't want to go to the hospital again, but the DeKalb Fire Department paramedics talked me into it and basically saved my life. I had a blood clot in my leg that resulted in a pulmonary embolism,” said Jim. He added that heart related problems and blood clots are common complications of the cancer treatment he has received. 

“You know, I’m a communication buff—I am not afraid to call someone to discuss how I’m feeling about something or question something. I’d rather talk face-to-face or on the phone; I’m not into e-mails or other technology so much,” he added. “The cooperation and communication I saw and experienced between the local medical team and Loyola was so impressive. I can’t say enough about my caregivers, both in DeKalb and in Chicago. 

“Everyone—the doctors, nurses, aides—are all such special people. They are amazing in their ability to be so compassionate and caring. I don’t think they truly realize what a gift they all are to their patients,” he said. Jim has been able to maintain the good sense of humor he is known for by friends and customers throughout his illness.

“I always try to use humor to get through every situation; and when you have something like this, you live by the hour, not by the day. “Norma and I both believe in staying positive. That and our strong faith in God have helped get us through this. We believe in the power of prayer and are thankful for everyone who have seen us through this very difficult time,” said Jim.

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