Paul Martin has had a fascinating life. In his time as a subcontractor, he worked to build the Atlanta Olympic Streetscape Project. As a minister, he helped others build meaning into their lives. In 2012, he was diagnosed with stage 4 T cell lymphoma, and despite a grueling regimen of chemotherapy, radiation, and a stem cell transplant, Paul and his wife Linda (also a cancer survivor) both graduated from college during his treatment. They have since gone on to start STAND N the GAP Initiative, a group that works to raise funds for those dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Paul has not yet received immunotherapy, but is interested in participating in a clinical trial in the future.
I was diagnosed October 1, 2012 with stage IV T cell Lymphoma. I remember the day this all started very clearly. I had been let off early from my job as a contractor (I’m also a minister) and was at home. I had been having some different symptoms, like sudden exhaustion, and the week before had been to the doctor. At exactly 2:45, my doctor called. He said, "Mr. Martin, you have lymphoma." I had never heard of lymphoma before.
So here I am, saying, "Okay, doc. What are we going to do? Do I need to come by there and pick up a prescription, and then come over and go to the pharmacist?" And before he replied, I heard myself say, "You need to ask the doctor what lymphoma is."
So I said, "Wait a minute. What is lymphoma?"
And he said, "Cancer."
And from the time that he said "cancer" it was like somebody put in me another room and closed the door. I couldn’t hear what he was saying. I was trying, but I couldn’t grasp everything.
Since then it has been up and down battle; building up blood & platelets, and building back my endurance. Throughout chemo, I kept thinking to myself, "Isn't there another way of doing this?" I first heard about immunotherapy when I was sitting in the bone marrow clinic. Just as a concept, immunotherapy sounds more right than anything else.
I went through nine rounds of the first phase of chemotherapy, then blood & platelets transfusions several times a week. The next phase of chemotherapy was supposed to be every other day for 6-8 months. Around the five month mark, I began to have severe side effects issues, mostly to do with my immune system being torn down. I kept getting fevers, and eventually wound up in the I.C.U.
It never made me feel good that the treatment was going to kill everything inside me. That's what chemotherapy does. It kills everything inside of you, and then you have to come back all over again.
Next I had radiation, and after that got set up for an autologous stem cell transplant, which would use my own stem cells. But then I had a heart attack, and fell off track. My support team and my wife Linda (my “shero”) helped me to get back on track. Another phase of treatment was added to my schedule, which meant even more chemo. Then they found more cancer, which meant I needed get donor stem cells. My son Terrance was a match, and I’m so grateful for what he’s given me through his donation.
I wouldn't wish this cancer on my worst enemy. But I wouldn't trade it, either. The mindset that I have now is like night and day. I have no more fear. We need to all know that there is a plan for each of us on this journey. When we come through victorious we must pick up the mantel and help someone else.
So many people did that for me. My wife Linda…I wouldn’t be here if not for what she does daily. My son Terrance literally saved my life, and my daughter Patrice keeps me going with constant encouragement. I also want it known that the Lord is my foundation, and He has been guiding me throughout this journey.
I'm an "encourager." That's the kind of person that I want to be. I love to sit down and talk to people about cancer, and help them get through it. But I want to do so much more. I want to be able to leave a legacy in doing something that will help people with cancer. That’s why we started STAND N the GAP Initiative. Our goal is to help cancer patients and caregivers with some of the more overlooked aspects of the experience, by helping with funding for things like cab rides, gas, meals, co-pays, and meds.
I hope that one day that we can find a cure for cancer. Immunotherapy makes me very hopeful that that can happen.
I also hope that, in part because of the work I do, people around this world will realize that they don’t have to fight this fight by themselves.
Provide guidance and encouragement to others going through their journey with cancer immunotherapy treatment.
*Immunotherapy results may vary from patient to patient.
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CRI Fellow Dr. Tim Fessenden of MIT shared his day with the CRI social community on Friday, June 26.
CRI hosted esteemed immunologists Carl June, Miriam Merad, and E. John Wherry to highlight immunotherapy’s pivotal role in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.