Calgary man shares story of fighting blood disease

Leukemia.

That eight-letter word can change a person’s life forever. The prognosis can sound like a death sentence, sending people into shock, depression or confusion. Life is never again normal.

Brian Dixon, a 24-year-old Calgarian, has first-hand knowledge on the effects leukemia can bring to one’s life. At age 18, Dixon began having severe pain in his lower back and hips, and was told by a doctor that he had a bulging disk. 

After taking his prescribed medications, his pain didn’t get any better, and spasms and a fever took hold of him. What scared him the most was the fact that he’d lost 80 pounds in a matter of months. Upon seeing a doctor at the urgent-care centre, he was told nothing was wrong and not to worry so much. But that all changed when Dixon passed out during Christmas Eve dinner in 2006.

Change not always for the better

On Dec. 25th, 2006, Dixon was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). At 19 and a recent graduate from Lord Beaverbrook High School, he didn’t think this could ever happen to him; much less understand what it meant. But as words such as “treatment” and “chemotherapy” started coming out of the hematologist’s mouth, it all became quite real.

“Once I heard the word ‘chemo,’ everything else around me became silent,” said Dixon, as he ran his hands through his short brown hair. “I knew that the doctor was still talking but the only thing that I could hear was the word cancer over and over again.”

The next day, Dixon had his first blood transfusion, cementing his new reality. A central catheter was inserted into his jugular vein, which ran under his skin and exited just above his pectoral muscle. The chemotherapy started right after that, along with the medications. 

Brian Dixon absolutely despised the chemotherapy treatments.

One month later, Dixon was allowed to leave the hospital. However, as his treatments reached the end, they realized that the chemotherapy wasn’t actually preventing the leukemia from coming back — it was only getting rid of it temporarily.”The chemo instantly made me feel nauseated,” he said. “There was only one that I really disliked. It was injected directly into my spine. The headaches were unbearable.”

To complicate matters, doctors informed Dixon that he would need a bone marrow transplant, as well as a higher dose of chemotherapy and full-body radiation. Fortunately, Dixon’s brother was a match for the transplant.

Dixon lowered his dark gaze and said of his brother’s sacrifice, “I owe him my life, literally.”

The hardest choice of all

At the age of 24, Brian Dixon has gone through more than most people his age, after battling leukemia at the age of 19.

Photo courtesy of: Brian Dixon

A few months upon learning he had leukemia, Dixon made one of the most difficultdecisions he had ever had to face: whether or not to write his own will.

While he was never told to write his will, Dixon did for a “just in case” scenario. It was a very stressful time, he said, because it meant dividing his belongings amongst his loved ones. It hurt because he didn’t want anyone to feel slighted. But just because he wrote his will, didn’t mean he was going to go down without a fight.

“I was going to fight my hardest to get over leukemia, but at the same time there was always the thought in the back of my head that I may not be able to conquer it,” Dixon said, his voice soft and his hands clasped. “I am a superstitious person and upon finishing the will, I began to wonder if I had wrote my own death sentence. Thankfully my will to survive was stronger than my superstition.”

Recovery

On July 4th, 2007, Brian Dixon was told that, after seven months of treatments, he was finally in remission. For him, this news was like a weight that was instantly lifted off his shoulders. Life felt like it could go on as normal.

After his experience with leukemia, Dixon said that he now finds in the simple things. He doesn’t stress over obstacles; his attitude is now more of “it is what it is.”

According to Dixon, his family has been brought closer since his leukemia. Even though he is more open about his illness, his family doesn’t talk about it. Instead, their time together is spent having fun and catching up with each other’s lives.

While his experience with leukemia will never be forgotten, he now tries to live his life like a normal 24-year-old, working at a contracting company. He spends his time playing hockey and having regular poker nights with his friends, as well as going out to watch live music shows.

But his time with leukemia did leave its mark on him.

“I am basically found doing anything to keep myself moving,” he said. “I have problems sitting around doing nothing. I am a very fidgety person now.”

Even though Dixon has been in remission for four years, there’s always the chance that the leukemia could come back.

“With leukemia being a blood disease it is never really gone from your body and there is always the chance of it coming back,” he said. “It is not something that I dwell on, but the thought crosses my mind every so often.

“I wouldn’t say that I ‘live everyday as if it were my last’ but rather enjoy every minute that I have,” Dixon said.

lgilbart@cjournal.ca