Faces of Cancer: Lymphoma diagnosis caught Richland man by surprise

By Andy Perdue, Tri-City HeraldOctober 17, 2011 

A study in the 1950s showed what many people today take for granted: Smoking can cause lung cancer.

Art King's father was a statistician on the study, and it left an impact on his perception of cancer.

"I thought cancer was caused by something you did or you were predisposed to it," he said. "My family had a history of heart disease, so I take care of myself. From my perspective, cancer was for others.

"So I thought."

King, 66, grew up in Philadelphia, attended the University of Maryland and started a business. In 2000, he moved to Richland when his wife, Lura Powell, became director of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

For years, King noticed a swelling in his neck. It came and went, and whenever he saw his doctor, it didn't seem to be there.

In January 2005, it showed up during his annual physical, and his doctor wanted it checked out. On the one-year anniversary of his mother-in-law dying of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, King underwent a biopsy that proved he had follicular lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

The normally slow-growing cancer was multiplying rapidly in King's body.

The next day, he started a new job as director of the Tri-City Food Bank -- replacing someone who had to step down to battle cancer.

Because King's cancer was aggressive, he began treatments almost immediately. Fortunately, he had a common form of lymphoma, while his mother-in-law's version was extremely rare.

"I got the right treatment, and it worked fine," he said. "The protocol is completely different now and would be an even better treatment."

While he was being treated at Columbia Basin Hematology and Oncology in Kennewick, he continued to work at the food bank, which turned out to be a blessing.

"The food bank didn't save my life, but it sure saved my sanity," he said. "It kept me busy, and seeing people going through different challenges -- greater challenges -- gave me perspective. It kept me from feeling sorry for myself."

Last year, King retired from the food bank and now focuses his volunteer efforts on educational matters, including Delta High School, the Children's Reading Foundation of the Mid-Columbia and the truancy board in Benton County.

King is clear of cancer but he continues to watch for it over his shoulder. Follicular lymphoma is expected to return and has a recurrence rate of about five years, he said.

While his doctor is optimistic it won't return because he reacted so well to his treatment, King is cautious.

He knows his body well now, and when he noticed some neck swelling 18 months ago, he was deeply concerned and was convinced the cancer had returned. It turned out to be nothing of consequence, but he remains vigilant.

"Now, I'm always on guard."

-- Andy Perdue: 582-1405; aperdue@tricityherald.com

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