Cancer survivor with local ties vying for Leukemia & Lymphoma Society award

Last updated: March 30. 2013 10:58PM - 4582 Views

Brent Evans, 28, was diagnosed with a form of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in 2010 with only a 7 percent chance of surviving it. His doctors say he is now cancer free. (PETE G. WILCOX/THE TIMES LEADER)
Brent Evans, 28, was diagnosed with a form of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in 2010 with only a 7 percent chance of surviving it. His doctors say he is now cancer free. (PETE G. WILCOX/THE TIMES LEADER)
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When Brent Evans was diagnosed with a form of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the first thing his doctor told him was “Don’t look this up on the Internet.”

That was because most sources give victims of the particular type of blood cancer a 7 percent chance of survival, he said.

Almost three years later, Evans, now 28, is a candidate for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Man of the Year Award, and doctors said he is cancer-free.

In 2010, Evans felt sick to his stomach and didn’t have much energy. He decided to go for bloodwork.

After each routine test called for another follow-up test, he finally sat down with a Philadelphia doctor who handed him a box of tissues. “That’s when I realized that something was up, but it never crossed my mind that it was cancer,” Evans said.

Shortly after the diagnosis, Evans endured a two-year ordeal crammed with chemotherapy, radiation and stem cell transplants.

After counting 150 days spent in the hospital for diagnostic tests and treatments, his mother, Karen, a nurse, said she stopped counting.

Over the course of a few months, Evans underwent six rounds of chemotherapy and 10 rounds of radiation, a chemical assault that left him without an immune system. After his fifth round of chemotherapy, doctors said he showed great improvement but needed stem cell transfusions from a suitable donor for his body to fight a recurrence.

Members of his Plains Township family were tested for blood compatibility. Doctors found his older brother, Ryan, was the best candidate.

The brothers now share the same blood type — it was different before the transplants — and their immune systems both essentially function the same way. Brent Evans said he can’t confirm that it’s because of the transplants, but he finds he has more energy and enthusiasm. He nodded toward his brother across the table and smiled.

During four eight-hour days, Ryan Evans lay on a table while hooked to machines; the stem cells were separated from his blood. Though he was advised of side effects before the procedure, Ryan Evans said those four days sapped him of his energy. “It just felt like I had 500 pounds on my shoulders,” he said.

Evans’ father, Ken, an electrician, suspended work for nearly two years to see that his son was tended to.

One doctor reminded Ken that his son is an adult and he didn’t have to spend every day at the hospital. “(I said) ‘You’re absolutely right, doc. I’ll see you tomorrow,’” Ken Evans said. “I was going to go back to Wilkes-Barre and back down again until the mission was complete.”

Karen Evans remembered the days immediately after the stem-cell transplant when a white-blood cell meter would not move past zero. Ryan’s stem cells were in his brother; yet, the disease-fighting white blood cells were not growing.

Then, around Christmas, 2010, the meter bumped to 0.2, she said. From there, Brent’s recovery skyrocketed.

Three years later, Brent Evans works at the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, the same hospital where he was treated for those two years. He still sees some of the same doctors who helped him.

He works in administration. Continuous contact with sick people potentially could be harmful, but he said he wanted to give back to the hospital that helped save his life.

At the outset, he decided to be positive about the grim diagnosis, he said.

“The second you look at the negative aspects of it, you don’t stand a chance,” Brent Evans said. “Going at it with a positive mind, that was a game-changer.”

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Man of the Year award is about fundraising, said Brent Evans, with every dollar counting as a point toward his total score. Thirteen other candidates from the Philadelphia region, in which Evans lives, are competing for most money raised.

His family plans to host a fundraising event from 1 to 4 p.m. April 21 at Rodano’s, Wilkes-Barre.

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