January 8, 2015 | by Nicole White
Aaron Bomar and his family were celebrating his daughter's 33rd birthday in September 2014 when he received alarming news: According to an X-ray taken earlier that day at an urgent care facility, he had a node on his aorta and was in danger of an aneurysm.
Bomar held hands with his wife and daughter and said a prayer. His daughter, Jessica Bomar Karylyle, blew out her candles, wishing for her 58-year-old father’s good health, and the family headed to the emergency room.
Earlier in 2014, Bomar, of Antelope Valley, had been treated for skin cancer. Lumps had developed on his face, ears and neck, making his doctors suspect another illness was also in play, but Bomar had been reluctant to have the lumps checked out. He couldn't afford health insurance and, as the sole provider for his family, he feared he simply couldn't pay the medical bills.
But Bomar had grown sicker by the day, quickly losing weight, and the lumps grew to golf-ball and soft-ball size. A concrete masonry inspector, Bomar is described by his daughter as strong, unflappable – and not terribly eager to go to the doctor. Finally, his wife, Julie, had convinced him to go to urgent care on that September day; there he had received the X-ray that prompted the family to go to an emergency room in Sylmar.
But at the emergency room, the news changed. Bomar's heart was perfect, a doctor said. But his other symptoms were troubling.
“The ER doctor said to my dad, ‘Boss, your symptoms are concerning me – especially with the 20-pound rapid weight loss,’” Karylyle wrote. '“I am afraid you are painting a cancer picture for me.”' Bomar was quickly diagnosed with lymphoma.
In a letter to City of Hope, Karylyle described what happened next:
“This news changed everything. After the diagnosis, my mom and I stood in the ER parking lot at midnight (now officially my birthday) and we cried,” Karylyle said. “We were scared, but relieved that he was getting help. My brother, his girlfriend and my husband were with us as well and we all took turns being in the hospital room with him. Around 2:30 a.m., they released my dad and told us to wait for the county to call us for an appointment to see the oncology department, but there was no way I was going to sit and wait around for someone to call us in order to help my dad.”Taking his lymphoma fight to City of Hope
Karylyle called City of Hope, and a few days later the family made its first trip from Antelope Valley to the Duarte campus. There, Ellie Maghami, M.D., chief of head and neck surgery, shook hands with Bomar and his family. Suspecting non-Hodgkin lymphoma, she and a team of five staff members went through his symptoms and examined him. Maghami explained that she would perform a surgical biopsy and that Leslie Popplewell, M.D., an associate clinical professor at the Hematologic Malignancies and Stem Cell Transplantation Institute, would treat the specific type of lymphoma.
When Bomar returned for his biopsy, however, he was so seriously ill that he was admitted to City of Hope.
“My mom and I were so relieved,” Karylyle said. “My mom was terrified that he wasn’t going to make it through another night at home.”
Bomar, however, was less pleased with the news. After going through his previous skin cancer biopsies and appointments calmly and optimistically, he was now scared – of cancer, of the costs of treatment and of chemotherapy. Bomer had lost his father to colon cancer in 1997 and, afterward, had become staunchly opposed to chemotherapy. “If I get cancer, I am denying chemotherapy,” he would say. “Chemo killed my dad.”
Following the surgical biopsy, Popplewell visited with the family, laying out the details of the treatment plan, from the immediate efforts to make Bomar more comfortable to the game plan for fighting his cancer. Upon the delivery of the biopsy report specifying Bomar's type of lymphoma, she ordered chemotherapy to start that evening.
“She explained every step and answered every question we asked,” Karylyle said. “She took her time with us and made us feel so safe … She had such a positive outlook on his diagnosis. She never gave us the stage or gave him any type of ‘expiration date.’”
'Most emotional thing I have ever witnessed'
Bomar was to have have six cycles of chemotherapy, one every three weeks, beginning that very night. The first cycle, which had to be administered by IV because Bomar was too ill for quicker means, like a portacath or picc line, was one of the toughest nights of treatment for the family. Bomar had an unusual and difficult reaction to the drugs. Confused and upset, he kept trying to pull out the IV. His family and staff members took turns trying to calm him. Christina Gibson, R.N., and Darlene Sison, R.N., the chemo nurses described by his family as “wonderful angels,” helped turn the night around.
“It was the worst and most emotional thing I have ever witnessed. It was like we were watching the cancer battle the chemo in my dad's body. It was absolutely insane. My dad's face even looked different. He was so very sick. His first chemo treatment ended up taking all night long. My mom sat by his side the whole night. My brother, his girlfriend and I ended up sleeping in the waiting room, where the nurses were extra nice and gave us warm blankets and pillows to use. Despite the creature comforts, I think we all got about a total of 45 minutes of sleep the whole night.Facing a final chemotherapy treatment with good news
My dad's chemo ended at 8 a.m. the next morning. It took so long because everything had to go slower on account of the IV line. I grabbed a coffee and went to the Rose Garden outside the hospital to make phone calls in order to update family members. None of us would have been able to handle any of that if it weren't for the nurses and staff that night. It was a beautiful place to be after a night like that, a place where I could just sit and reflect on what had happened. What a wild experience.”
After 11 days, Bomar returned home. He continued chemo treatment. When he started losing his hair, he chose to shave his own head. His care was transferred to the new City of Hope campus in Antelope Valley, where he could finish his treatments and lab work just a short drive from his home.
"He spends almost all day at City of Hope in Lancaster on chemo days. Lily, Tracy and Stacy make every day amazing for my dad. No matter what he feels like inside he always smiles through it all. My dad is kind of a jokester; he's always goofing around with the nurses. After a chemo session, the first week he felt amazing due to the steroids, the next week he felt very tired but after the third week he started to feel somewhat normal again. His body accepted the chemo very well and he had very little side effects. The therapy did not stop his life either, he continues going to church (where is a greeter and usher), several times a week."
Nimit Sudan, M.D., oversaw Bomar’s care in Lancaster. After Bomar’s third dose of chemotherapy, scans revealed how his body and cancer were reacting to the treatment. The news was amazing.
“The preliminary results showed that there were no signs of cancer in his body,” Karylyle said. “We were in complete shock. Wow! Is this real? This was so quick! Our prayers have been answered. We met with Dr. Sudan for the final results, and he repeated what the first doctor had told us. My dad is cancer- free! We also found out what stage of cancer he had: He had Stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma. But now it was all gone! Unbelievable!”
Looking back – and looking forward
Now Bomar’s cancer journey is coming to a close. He had his final chemotherapy treatment on Jan. 7. Before that last round, his daughter summed up her family's excitement and her advice for people going through cancer themselves or with a loved one:
“My dad only has one more treatment. His final chemo is on January 7, 2015. And what an unbelievable journey we have all been through as a family. Ringing in the New Year CANCER-FREE!!! Cancer can affect anyone. For others traveling down the same road: Keep your faith, stay strong and united as a family. Reach out to other cancer survivors for advice.***
I received a mixed blessing to have had a close friend of mine go through and beat this exact illness just this past year! She coached me through the good, bad, the ugly and what to expect. It was tremendously helpful. Keep a positive outlook and stay strong for your family. Take turns being the strong one, while the others take refuge in your strength. Take everything one day at a time, one appointment at a time and one treatment at a time.
On behalf of my dad and my whole family, we thank City of Hope and all of your angels. You gave us true hope and you saved my dad's life. We are forever grateful. My wish for everyone is on the wishing tree: ‘There is always HOPE! Stay strong, fight hard and LOVE LOVE LOVE!’ Thank you.”
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