Surviving Well: Christopher Milne, Burkitt’s Lymphoma

Christopher Milne is a Colorado native, so naturally he enjoys the outdoors—hiking and climbing are among his favorite pastimes. He roots for the Denver Broncos and the Colorado Avalanche.

He is happily married, optimistic and easy to talk to. But these enduring characteristics were tested when Christopher was diagnosed with Stage 4 Burkitt’s lymphoma, a very aggressive form of cancer.

“Don’t give up,” he encourages, when asked what advice he would share.

Christopher’s personal battle with cancer began in August 2011 when he started experiencing back pains, seemingly out of nowhere. A bulge was discovered in one of his disks, but the initial treatment yielded no results.

In September of the same year, Christopher started seeing double and his jaw, chin and teeth went numb. After an MRI and a visit to his eye doctor and dentist, Christopher was still without answers. No one could figure out why he was experiencing these symptoms.

In late September, Christopher went with his wife to the Emergency Department at Rose Medical Center, where they discovered enlarged lymph nodes and performed a biopsy.

“She was there by my side, taking care of me the entire time,” Christopher says of his wife. They had just married three months earlier.

Christopher was immediately admitted to Rose, where a doctor reviewed his symptoms. Determining that Christopher’s symptoms pointed to either MS or lymphoma, Christopher was referred to Dr. Alan Feiner.

“Oh, he is an amazing doctor. The level of care that he gives you and how he goes through everything, and he’s there every day for you—I’ve never experienced anything like that,” Christopher says.

“He has dedicated his life to his patients, and you can honestly feel that… it’s good to have him fighting for you on your side.”

From his admission to the hospital until first week of November, Christopher lived on Rose’s fifth floor.

“All of the doctors I came into contact with at Rose were amazing. The nurses on the fifth floor were great,” says Christopher.

“I’m really thankful for all of them.”

A liver biopsy confirmed that Christopher had Stage 4 Burkitt’s lymphoma. He underwent a bone marrow biopsy and began chemotherapy. He was just 26 years old at the time.

“When I finally got the news, it wasn’t what I expected,” he recalls.

A tumor was located behind his right eye, paralyzing his optic nerve and his eye’s ability to track to the right—which is why Christopher was seeing double. Fourteen doses of radiation were applied to his ocular region and chemotherapy was delivered into his spinal fluid.

“Being newly-weds and going through that with my new wife was very difficult, but she was there the entire time—fighting for me, taking care of me when I was out of it,” says Christopher, who has a hard time remembering the first couple of weeks after the initial biopsies and treatments.

After Christopher was discharged, he visited the transfusion center for platelets every day for two weeks before beginning chemotherapy again in January 2012.

But there was a problem.  Chemoradiation did not achieve a complete response, which is necessary for survival in Burkitt’s lymphoma.

Christopher waited two months for a donor and had to postpone the procedure when his liver counts were too high. To complicate things, Christopher learned that the original donor he had arranged backed out.

With his team of doctors and loved ones by his side, Christopher decided to use his own stem cells for the procedure. In April 2012 his stem cells were extracted and then reintroduced the next day, successfully, and the transplant held. Dr. Tara Gregory of the Colorado Blood Cancer Institute (CBCI) at Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center (P/SL) performed the transplant.

Due to his weakened immune system, Christopher remained at P/SL for two weeks while his body recovered from all of the tribulations it had endured.

“Now, looking back, I’m thankful to be alive, honestly,” he says.

Christopher currently works in law enforcement. He was moved by the actions of his co-workers and the efforts they made for him.

“They covered my time—because I didn’t have sick time there to cover it all—they actually donated all their sick hours to help me get through it. They donated money and time, they visited and brought my wife food, helped her try to feel normal through all of it.”

Christopher has since returned to his regular position full-time. For anyone else dealing with similar hardships, he offers a simple word of advice:

“Like they told us, plan what you’re going to do after you get over it, and that’s what we did.”

Christopher has been cancer-free since April 2012.

The Rose “Surviving Well” calendar is a 12-month calendar highlighting our cancer services, physicians and inspirational stories from our patients. Christopher is our survivor for December.

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