At age 24 with a wife and a career, Michael Beiswenger had barely begun to write the story of his life when he received a devastating diagnosis. More than a year later, he’s free to keep adding chapters to his tale, thanks to the care he received from specialists near and far.
“Why is this happening to me? I’m 24! This doesn’t make any sense. What am I going to do?”
Those thoughts streamed through Michael Beiswenger’s mind after the Crookston, Minnesota, resident and precision agriculture specialist for CHS Ag Services learned he likely had lymphoma—cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system. That was in December 2018.
“I was pretty upset because I was young and relatively healthy,” Michael says. “To have a wrench thrown in my life like that is something I never thought would happen.”
Meeting an Unexpected Challenge
Michael didn’t realize it at the time, but his journey with cancer began in October 2018, when he noticed a lump on the side of his neck. He didn’t give it much thought but brought it up with his primary care provider, Carrie Clauson, physician assistant at Altru, two months later. She ordered an ultrasound and a CT scan, which revealed that the lump was likely lymphoma. Carrie referred Michael to Altru ear, nose and throat specialist Mark Strand, DO, MS, who came to the same conclusion after two biopsies.
On January 4, 2019, Altru hematologist and oncologist Kevin Panico, MD, formally diagnosed Michael with Hodgkin
lymphoma. More tests revealed the cancer was in the second of a possible four stages, with small tumors in lymph nodes in Michael’s neck and chest. After consulting with a specialist at Mayo Clinic, Dr. Panico and Altru radiation oncologist Grant R. Seeger, MD, initiated a treatment plan featuring two cycles of chemotherapy followed by 10 days of radiation therapy.
Throughout February and March of 2019, Michael visited Altru Cancer Center every other week for an IV chemotherapy drip. Like many patients who receive chemotherapy, he experienced side effects, but he downplays their impact on his life.
“I consider myself lucky,” Michael says. “I lost my hair and was tired from time to time, but I was always back at work the day after treatment.”
A positron emission tomography (PET) scan at the conclusion of chemotherapy revealed good news: the tumors had shrunk significantly, meaning Michael was free to proceed with radiation therapy.
More Memories to Make
Days after completing chemotherapy, Michael began a five-days-per-week, two-week course of radiation therapy at Altru Cancer Center with Dr. Seeger. He underwent TomoTherapy, a treatment in which radiation beams precisely target tumors from several angles while largely sparing nearby healthy tissue. Three months after the last radiation treatment, a PET scan showed every tumor was shrinking. Michael was officially in remission. His most recent follow-up CT scan, in March, was clear. He’ll undergo another in October.
“Michael’s prognosis is very good,” Dr. Seeger says. “He has a high chance of being cured, based on his response to and good tolerance of treatment. He has many options in the future if his cancer were to come back.”
Now 25, Michael is grateful to his Altru medical team for meticulously crafting a successful treatment plan and for the compassion they showed him and his family. Even during the toughest parts of his cancer treatment, Michael found moments of joy and humor. He believes that’s important for anyone dealing with a similar challenge.
“You have to be able to have fun, even with cancer,” Michael says. “To have this serious disease at my age, it would have been easy to get down and let my thoughts get pretty dark. I was lucky enough to have a good support group of friends and family who kept me grounded and made me laugh. There’s power in laughter.”
For more information about how Altru cares for patients with cancer, visit altru.org/cancer.