Will Issa is a 28-year-old Massachusetts resident and drug development scientist at a bio-pharmaceutical company. On June 18, 2013, Will was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Burkitt’s lymphoma, shortly after noticing a large, painless lump on his body that appeared very quickly. A week after receiving his diagnosis, by chance, Will heard Joe on the radio conducting an interview on behalf of the Foundation.
During this broadcast, Will learned that Joe was a survivor of the very same form of cancer of which he was just diagnosed. After hearing this news, Will shared this story with friends and family. Unbeknownst to Will, one of his close friends contacted Joe on Twitter, asking if he would reach out to Will. A week later, Will received a call from Joe, who chatted with him for some time and invited him to attend the Foundation’s Patriots Dream Camp event at Gillette Stadium.
Below, our good friend Will provides an update on the status of his diagnosis, and shares his (Up)Beat attitude.
– Jen Andruzzi
JAF: What did you think of the Patriots Dream Camp, your first experience with the Foundation?
Luckily, the Dream Camp was held during one of my off weeks from chemo so I was thrilled to be healthy enough to attend. I had the opportunity to meet Joe and Jen and really got to learn firsthand about the Foundation, how it began, and its mission. It was a great day having a chance to get to know others of all ages who – like me – were in the midst of battling their respective diseases. Meeting Tom Brady, Tim Tebow, and many other Pats players wasn’t too shabby either J. Seeing all the smiles on the faces of patients, their families, and friends and realizing how excited and upbeat everyone was to be at camp made it really apparent to me that JAF achieved what they had set out to do.
JAF: We know that you have a really positive attitude when it comes to your diagnosis and treatment. Please tell us a little bit about what you’re going through right now.
On June 18, I was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, the most aggressive cancer known in medicine. Luckily, scans showed that even after more than two months the cancer appeared to remain relatively localized to one area. I decided to enroll in a new clinical trial, which involves a chemotherapy regimen comprised of six cycles of seven drugs administered every three weeks. Here’s how each cycle works. During Week 1, I camp out at what I refer to as my Beacon Hill timeshare, MGH (Mass General Hospital) and get infused. Week 2 is my recovery at home, when I feel like I got hit by a steamroller. There, I stay in isolation and try to prevent myself from getting an infection as my white blood cells plummet through the floor. During Week 3, my blood counts start to rebound, and I start to physically feel better, just in time to get beaten up for the next round.
It has been a long and taxing few months and I can finally see the finish line in the distance. My scans are all clean and show no residual signs of disease at this point which I could not be happier about. Five cycles complete…very anemic and fatigued… still (Up)Beat! Next week I am headed back to MGH for my sixth and final, round of chemo, the toughest to date. November 1st marks the beginning of my recovery toward what I call Will 2.0, the old me with a boatload of added perspective on life and living well.
JAF: You are an inspiration to us. You certainly embody the Foundation’s (Up)Beat philosophy! How do you manage to stay so positive during such a difficult time?
Even though I am going through an extremely trying situation, I feel very blessed for many reasons.
Living in Boston, we take for granted that we have access to arguably the best medical care in the world. My entire care team at MGH, from my oncologists, to my nurses has been nothing short of incredible. To them I will be forever indebted.
Burkitt’s lymphoma is a highly curable form of cancer. In previous studies, the treatment regimen I am on has been demonstrated to yield cure rates of greater than 95%. To me those are remarkable odds and really give me hope and confidence that I WILL be cured. In addition I have an amazing support system, my family and friends, who have shown me a tremendous amount of love and support and have unconditionally been there for me 24/7 throughout this whole process.
There are plenty of patients out there who are much worse off than I am. I always keep that in the front of my mind. When I want to complain and start feeling bad for myself I always think of those with much more debilitating, chronic, or terminal diagnoses and what they must be going through.
Any time I feel “good” (i.e. a few days per month) I try to enjoy myself as much as possible, whether it involves playing a little golf, going out to dinner, seeing my friends, or taking a drive somewhere. It’s these small victories that keep me sane and give me the strength to endure another round. For these I am very thankful.
JAF: Do you have any advice for other cancer patients who are going through a similar situation? Any words of wisdom you’d like to share with them?
There are a few things that have been quite valuable for me:
Never lose your sense of humor! Laugh as much as you can. Laughing is not only helpful for coping and clearing your mind but it also eases the minds of the people around you that care for you.
Be a little selfish! This is an extremely difficult time for you mentally, physically, and emotionally and is YOUR time to get well.
Today is a better day than yesterday; tomorrow will be better than today.
JAF: We know you’ve had the opportunity to meet and become friendly with other patients undergoing treatment. How important is it to connect with other patients and have this support system?
It is extremely important to connect with other patients. They truly understand exactly what you are going through down to the most miniscule detail, as they have been through nearly identical experiences and can relate to you and your situation on so many levels, in ways that even family and friends cannot. Being able to share emotions as well as perspectives with one another on what to expect, how to deal with certain aspects of the disease and treatment is absolutely invaluable. It is also inspiring to see how strong some folks are and what they are able to endure and persevere through.
JAF: Who or what inspires you?
It inspires me that as of this year there are over 13 million cancer survivors in the U.S. alone. Each and every one of those individuals has a unique and powerful story and has put up a valiant fight against their respective form of the deadly disease. That number needs to increase even further. As a patient first and scientist second, it is easy to see the need for a next generation of therapeutics that brings about more remissions, and even more cures. So many companies and research institutes are on the cusp now with many in clinical trials and even more coming soon in the pipeline.
JAF: Do you have any final parting words for friends of the Joe Andruzzi Foundation?
Almost everyone, at some point in life, will in some way be affected by cancer, whether it’s a family member, a friend, a colleague, or even yourself. When cancer rears its ugly head, the lives of patients and their families are turned upside down overnight and it is not something that anyone plans for. Not only is cancer a burden physically, it takes a huge toll on the whole family both emotionally and financially. JAF is a very unique organization that really makes a direct impact on patients’ lives. The money that is donated goes DIRECTLY to patients and their families that are struggling to stay current with everyday bills and expenses, while fighting the most important battle of their life. Donate to this great cause if you can!