Very few of the Olympians competing in Sochi can say they are cancer survivors. Nordic combined skier Bryan Fletcher is one of those few. Fletcher had acute lymphoblastic leukemia as a child.
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a cancer of the blood, and the most common form of childhood cancer. Symptoms of ALL include fever, tiredness, bone or joint pain, enlarged lymph nodes and unusual bruising.
To diagnosis this type of leukemia doctors must perform a blood test to look at the blood cells and bone marrow for abnormalities. A spinal tap may be needed to see if ALL is in the central nervous system of the body. It is a fast-growing cancer of lymphocyte-forming cells called lymphoblasts. When diagnosed it can be treated with medicines and treatments like chemotherapy.
"As a kid going through chemo, it's something that you always remember and are always going to look back on," said Fletcher in a December interview. "But going through it, I always just wanted to be a normal kid."
Fletcher now shares his story with children as a volunteer for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
"I had a pretty extensive battle, having a stroke and an allergic reaction to some chemotherapy drugs," he said. "But once I was all clear through that, I think I was eight years old, after a two-year remission study to make sure nothing was awry. I didn't really look back on it until I was in high school. I was like, 'Wow, this is motivation.' It's something that pushes me everyday."
Fletcher applies that motivation to his sport and is going for gold in his first Olympic Games.
The Nordic combined events are grueling. The event involves ski jumping followed by a 15-kilometer cross-country ski race. But Fletcher is considered the top American contender, placing 13th at the recent World Cup, and knows that he has to be tough to beat out the Norwegians, the dominators in the sport.
In a Washington Post interview Fletcher put it this way, “I am working to figure out the rhythm of this hill, and we’ll see what happens.”
His veteran teammate Todd Lodwick said, “We haven’t competed yet. It’s time to unleash again. Anything is possible at the Olympic Games. It’s a whole new animal.” Ask Dr. Bhatia
For more information about cancers of the blood and how we treat them ask Dr. Bhatia.