Faces of Cancer: Kennewick man goes through 96 rounds of chemotherapy

By Andy Perdue, Herald staff writerOctober 21, 2011 

Chemotherapy is a common way to battle cancer, and it's often a nasty procedure in which toxic chemicals are pumped into a patient with the intent of attacking and killing cancer cells.

Many fighting cancer go through a handful of chemo sessions. Joel Solis of Kennewick has endured 96 treatments.

What he has dealt with -- and continues to face -- makes him a warrior.

The longtime real estate agent with Windermere Tri-Cities in Kennewick is undergoing a rare stem cell transplant in Seattle that he hopes will finally defeat his leukemia.

"It's been an arduous journey," he said from his apartment at the Pete Gross House in Seattle, where he will continue to live until mid-December. "It's been quite an adventure."

Solis, 67, was diagnosed with chronic lymphatic leukemia in 2001. For the first year, it was wait and watch, then the battle began with 50 chemo treatments that seemed to keep the cancer in check for a few years.

When it returned and got worse, he received more treatments.

In December, Solis got sick and landed in the hospital for two weeks at Christmas time.

"His cancer stopped walking and started running," said his wife, Niki.

By then, he had exhausted what could be done for him in the Tri-Cities, so in April he went to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, a joint operation of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, University of Washington Medicine and Seattle Children's Hospital.

A doctor there put him into an experimental program that was so new, Solis was one of the first 10 people in the world to receive the treatment.

Basically, his stem cells would be replaced with those of a donor with the hope of rebuilding his immune system.

The hard part is finding a good donor. On occasion, a sibling will be compatible, but a child almost never is.

In August, Solis' brother was tested but was not a good match. But his son Joel Jr., 42, who lives in nearby Snohomish, miraculously was.

Last month, 9 million stem cells were harvested from Joel Jr.

"It took an hour to get the stem cells," Niki said. "Then we went out to dinner."

Solis then underwent two, 12-hour chemo sessions -- his last, he hopes -- and a full-body radiation treatment with the goal of wiping out his immune system in preparation for having his son's stem cells injected into him.

On Sept. 13, 5 million new stem cells went into his body, and the family began the wait to see how well they would work.

Every day, he goes to the hospital for three to four hours of treatments. This week, Solis found out that initial tests show his son's stem cells have taken over his body and are doing what his doctors hoped.

"It's pretty awesome," said Niki, who works for Fluor Federal Services at CH2M Hill and heads to Seattle on weekends to care for her husband.

Now his goal is to get better and come home to be with Niki and his beloved dog, Tazz.

"My immune system is not 100 percent yet," he said. "I have to watch out for infections, so I can't be around large crowds. But I'm getting stronger and regaining the weight I lost. I'm in great, great hands."

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