Orange County Cyclist Fortifies Body, Mind, And Spirit Close To Home During Lymphoma Treatment
As we join hands to stop the spread of the delta variant, City of Hope Orange County, our patients, and our communities are sustained by hope. Hope for continued resilience against an evolving coronavirus, and hope for every individual and family facing the challenges of cancer in the midst of the public health crisis.
For Charles “Chuck” Gustafson, a new hope was born one spring night in 2020, when he was alone in a hospital room attached to a ventilator, in a medically-induced coma. Recently diagnosed with lymphoma, Gustafson had already had his first appointment at City of Hope | Newport Beach, but before he could begin treatment, he came down with COVID-19.
People with blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma are at even higher risk of serious complications from COVID-19 than people with solid tumors, because the immune cells they need to produce antibodies against viruses are often weakened or depleted.
In the still of that night, Gustafson had a vision.
“I felt God looking down on me. He said, ‘Chuck, I love you and you’re not going to die of this.’ The next morning I was taken off the ventilator and went home about a week later,” Gustafson, a North Tustin, California, resident, said. “I’ve taken God’s message as a promise to me during everything that has happened since, and it’s become part of my mantra of hope. There’s nothing worse than having no purpose and meaning in life — that’s hopelessness. God has given me purpose and meaning even in tragedy, and it’s made me a better person. Out of my experiences, I’ve felt more love for my wife and kids, and I’ve gained more empathy for others.”
Gustafson has always been active and would strive to accomplish physical goals such as climbing Mount Whitney or competing nationally as a century racer in 100-mile bike rides. Now, his goals are infused with hope.
Specialized care is hope fulfilled
A tumor was discovered during Gustafson’s routine colonoscopy in August 2019. What originally appeared to be colon cancer turned out to be lymphoma, with the tumor pushing on the colon wall from the outside. Gustafson soon realized he wanted specialized care with a physician who focused exclusively on his type of cancer.
“I needed the security that comes with an organization that has a great reputation for both exceptional science and clinical care; I was looking for trust,” he said. “I wanted the expertise of a cancer center like City of Hope, which is renowned for its research and focuses on nothing but cancer every hour of every day. And while I am truthful to the science of treatment, I also want to feel like I’m part of the discussion — that the doctors see what I’m experiencing and determine the best treatment to help me.”
He found that combination of scientific innovation and compassionate, responsive care in Tanya Siddiqi, M.D., a leading blood cancer specialist and accomplished clinician-scientist at City of Hope’s Toni Stephenson Lymphoma Center and Gehr Family Center for Leukemia Research, in January 2020 and was immediately impressed.
“Before coming to City of Hope Orange County, I had met with other doctors who wouldn’t let me see my records. It felt like ‘The Wizard of Oz’ — don’t look at the man behind the curtain,” Gustafson said. “But Dr. Siddiqi let me see the information, and she writes reports after our meetings so I can refer back to them later. She developed a blueprint that set out the continuum of treatment, with all the things she can do to help me.”
The fact that Gustafson’s appointments took place at City of Hope’s Newport Beach location, just a short drive from Gustafson’s home, was a welcome bonus.
“That was the clincher. I have a great doctor and it’s convenient to get there,” Gustafson said. “That made a big difference during my infusion therapy last year after recovering from COVID. I went every Friday for a month and it was an easy trip, versus traveling outside my community and feeling like a stranger in the area. And in many other places you wait longer to see the doctor than you spend in the actual appointment, and that has not been my experience here. They value me and my time. There’s a respect for the patients, and I respect them as a health care facility.”
Setting goals and seeing the good in life
After some time off from infusion therapy, Gustafson recently resumed treatment. It’s a more aggressive combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy that has its “ups and downs.” But it doesn’t keep Gustafson from leading a rich life.
He connects often with his three grown children and looks forward to the arrival of his first grandchild this year. Gustafson and his wife, Michele, are active volunteers at their church. Although he’s retired from his full-time job as a school psychologist, he still works in that role as a substitute — which was no mean feat during the pandemic. And he enjoys riding his e-bike around his neighborhood and the hills of nearby Peters Canyon.
“I’m hopeful and confident my treatment will make a big difference in my life,” Gustafson said. “My goal for my life is to live long enough to see all my kids have two kids of their own. If and when that happens, and if I'm alive to see it, I’ll feel like my life was well lived.”
Hope is growing at City of Hope Orange County. Powered by more than 1,000 physicians and scientists whose expertise benefits 100 million people around the world each year, City of Hope is focused on treating and curing cancer. Now, this lifesaving care is available for you, your family, your neighbors, and all your friends … right here in Orange County. To make an appointment at any of our four Orange County locations, call 800-826-4723 or click here.