Faces of Cancer: Tri-Citian battles 3 cancers to care for wife

By Andy Perdue, Tri-City HeraldOctober 20, 2011 

Most survivors will say that fighting cancer can be an exhausting, all-encompassing battle. Imagine waging a simultaneous war on three fronts.

That's what Dennis DeFord of Kennewick faced more than three years ago.

DeFord, 72, was diagnosed with skin cancer, prostate cancer and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma all about the same time, around February 2008. The most serious of the three was mantle cell lymphoma, one of the rarest forms of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, so that is what his doctors tackled first. He began with six rounds of chemotherapy at the Tri-Cities Cancer Center in Kennewick.

Because he was in otherwise good health -- except for the three unrelated forms of cancer -- he qualified for a clinical trial. He traveled west of the mountains to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, where he received four more rounds of chemo treatments. Doctors also extracted stem cells from his bone marrow about this time because they figured they would need them to kickstart his immune system because his treatments could be nearly fatal.

From there he went to the University of Washington Medical Center, where he received experimental treatments using iodine 131. The retired Hanford worker estimates he received the equivalent of 240 rads. The treatment left him so saturated, said his daughter Diane Lambert, that he had to spend two weeks in a lead-lined room with no visitors -- and everything that went into the room with him was classified as toxic waste by the time he left.

After doctors reinfused his immune system with his own stem cells and DeFord took six months to regain his strength, he tackled the prostate cancer. Surgery in April 2009 at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle eradicated that, then doctors surgically removed the melanoma from his scalp.

DeFord said he has dealt with skin cancer more than once, and growing up under the Tri-City sun most likely was the problem.

"We never wore shirts or hats, and I've paid the price for that," he said.

Since then, DeFord has remained cancer free, though he has had a couple of scares. One of his follow-up CT scans showed something his oncologist thought might be lymphoma.

"When you hear that, you're suicidal," he said.

A biopsy showed a lymph node was swollen from fighting an illness. Basically, it was doing its job. He recently noticed a lump on his chest. That, too, was nothing more than a swollen but healthy lymph node.

"It's great to be well," he said. "It's great to be healthy."

And DeFord is motivated to stay that way as long as he can because he now is caring for his wife, Doris, who has Alzheimer's disease. Her family moved to Richland in 1943 when her father was a worker at Hanford on the Manhattan Project, and the two were high school sweethearts who married soon after graduation.

"We've been married 53 years," he said. "I have to take care of her. No one can do that as well as I can.

"I just have to stay healthy. I have to."

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service