At 28 years old, Nick Howe never imagined a morning cup of coffee with his mother would change his life forever. Howe was explaining to his mother that starting their family had not been easy for him and his wife Rachel.
“The conversation moved into a discussion of various reproductive treatments,” he said. “I told her I would rather adopt.”
His mother was shocked by his dismissal.
“She asked me, ‘What if I were to tell you the reason why you and your sister are here today is because of a donor?’” said Howe.
A turn for the worse
Three years later, Howe, at 31, and his wife were still struggling to start their family. Howe also began to experience a variety of severe health issues, including liver and kidney failure, and the loss of 55 pounds within the span of a couple of months.
After some time in the hospital, he was diagnosed with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) — an aggressive, or fast-growing, type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) — and was told to start treatment immediately.
Howe’s journey was fraught with challenges and setbacks. After his autologous stem-cell transplant failed, Howe relapsed in less than 100 days and his doctors began preparing him to undergo an allogeneic stem cell transplant.
This treatment relied on Howe finding a donor who was a complete genetic match.
His doctors began testing his immediate family as possible stem cell donors. With none resulting in a complete match, Howe remembered the life-changing conversation he had with his mother three years prior.
“Shortly after my conversation with my mother, I began a search for my half-siblings,” he said. Through that search, he identified and connected with 10 half-siblings. One of them would be the person whom Howe calls his “Hail Mary.”
Howe met his half-brother, who happened to be a health care professional working at the same medical institution where Howe was being treated. Howe later learned his half-brother was the match that could potentially save his life.
At the same time, an additional treatment called chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy became available in the United States. Faced with the difficult decision between an allogeneic stem cell transplant or CAR T-cell therapy (which was still in clinical trials), Howe decided to look at the experimental therapy as a chance to contribute to the greater good.
“I decided to adopt the mindset of being an astronaut,” he said. “Like an astronaut, I had an obligation to my fellow man to discover the unknown in hopes of finding something that would save not just my life, but also the lives of the lymphoma patients who would come after me.”
Ultimately, Howe decided to undergo CAR T-cell therapy, becoming just the fifth person in the world to be treated with this type of therapy as part of the clinical trial.
When the day came to begin CAR T-cell therapy, Howe spent seven days in each inpatient and outpatient observation for side effects monitoring and data recording. He was shocked to learn he only experienced minor vertigo.
Three weeks after receiving treatment, he and his wife were elated to find out the treatment was a success and he was clear of any disease. Shortly after, they welcomed their daughter Julia into the world.
“People always ask me, ‘Nick, how should I interact with someone I care about who has cancer?’” he said. “My answer is simple: Give them a future. Give them exploration and something to look forward to. We all need a future to survive for.”
The Lymphoma Research Foundation hosts nationwide in-person education programs to provide the lymphoma community the opportunity to learn about this blood cancer and have their questions answered by world-leading experts. For more information please visit, lymphoma.org/programs.