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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Area doctor battles Lymphoblastic Lymphoma

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Dr. Mark Thomas, M.D., and his wife, Jean, take a moment to play with their children, Abby, 4, and Joey, 2. Thomas was diagnosed with Lymphoblastic Lymphoma in August and is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment.
Irony is something Dr. Mark Thomas, M.D., knows all too well.

In August, Thomas, 44, was diagnosed with Lymphoblastic Lymphoma, a rare form of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

"I was in disbelief," Thomas said. "You never expect anything like this to happen, especially after starting a medical practice and having two small children."

Unlike most forms of lymphoma, which attacks B-cells, Lymphoblastic Lymphoma attacks the body's T-cells, which belong to the white blood cells and assist in immunity to diseases.

The cancer hit Thomas out of nowhere.

"I was very healthy when I was diagnosed and had not shown any other symptoms that anything was wrong. In fact, I had ran a couple of miles just days before," he said. "Then one day I woke up with some swelling in my neck and went to the emergency room at St. Vincent Clay Hospital where they found a large tumor in my chest."

It was not in his family history and, as a doctor, the experience has turned his life upside-down.

"This has completely changed my attitude," Thomas said. "I have basically been in the hospital the past three months, never spending more than a day out. It has given me a better appreciation for what patients go through."

The irony in Thomas' life did not begin with his diagnosis.

After graduating from high school, he received a Master's Degree in Physics from Indiana University, then worked for about five years as a researcher for Allison Gas Turbine, Indianapolis, but wanted to return to Brazil.

"In 1998, I began studying at the IU School of Medicine because I wanted to come back to my hometown and open a practice," Thomas said. "I finished my residency in Terre Haute in 2001, but I took time out in between to try to reach a dream."

In 2000, he applied to NASA for the astronaut program. He reached the semifinals, composed of the final 120 applicants, but his will to be a doctor was just too strong.

"I came close to becoming an astronaut, but if I had made it, I would have had to be in the program at least two years before I would be considered to fly in the space shuttle," Thomas said. "While training, I talked to some people who had been in the program for more than 10 years and still had not been able to fly. I then, along with my wife, Jean, decided it wasn't the right thing for me."

Thomas then finished his residency and went to work for a private practice in Martinsville, where he was able to expand his medical knowledge.

"I was about to come back home when a strange twist of fate kept me in Martinsville," he said. "One of the doctors found out she was pregnant with triplets after years of trying to have children, and the office was in need of someone to help in pediatrics."

Thomas spent a couple of years working with children before finally being able to return to Brazil.

"I returned to work for Dr. Charles French, M.D., ironically in the same office building where I went as a kid," Thomas said "With my new background in pediatrics, I helped local residents so they didn't have to rely on going to Terre Haute for their children to see a doctor."

Thomas said he even purchased his current home from French and even has the same babysitter for his children, Abby, 4, and Joey, 2, as French had.

"It has definitely been an interesting experience," he said. "But the biggest disappointment of being diagnosed was that I just came back and now Dr. French is back to running the office on his own again."

The experience has also given Thomas an increased knowledge and understanding of what a patient goes through.

"Before, I would see patients and not truly understand why they felt or acted certain ways, but now I do," he said. "Some patients would complain about a burning sensation when having an IV with potassium in it and I didn't quite believe the pain was so bad. However, when I had one and felt it for myself, I could see what they were talking about because it burns a lot."

Thomas said with this form of lymphoma, even if the chemotherapy he is receiving is successful, it will come back more than half the time.

"I saw a specialist at IU Thursday and he said this is just bad luck and no one knows why this particular form of lymphoma occurs," Thomas said. "It is definitely a tough thing to go through, and the family has gone through a lot the past few months. Jean lost her mother a few months ago from cancer and my dad has recently had a few surgeries."

Thomas' father, State Representative Amos Thomas, has had a laminectomy to treat his spinal stenosis and was recently readmitted for complications stemming from the procedure.

"Dad was the one who had been driving me back and forth to my treatment sessions," he said. "It really makes you realize that it's the little things that matter"

He said with the chemotherapy and the severe anemia which has come from the treatment, he has been too weak to do the smallest of chores, like paying bills, and everything has fallen on the shoulders of his wife.

"I've had to handle everything around the house and with two children it can be tough," Jean, who also works as a nurse at Dr. French's office, said. "We feel so lucky to have great friends and family who are willing to help, and it just teaches you that you have to take everything day by day because you never know what might happen."

As with nearly every patient who spends months in the hospital, Thomas is also feeling the financial strain.

"It is financially devastating," he said. "Even as a doctor it can be tough to handle all the bills, especially since we are still making payments on a house in Martinsville, which we have been unable to sell. It makes you appreciate just how hard people work to make sure everything is all right when going through such a difficult situation."

Thomas is particularly appreciative of all the hard work and effort the hospitals have shown in taking care of him.

"I don't know if a resident truly understand just how well the people at St. Vincent Clay Hospital perform their jobs," he said. "They do a better job of taking care of patients than a lot of the hospitals I have worked for."

Thomas went Friday to have a blood transfusion and has returned to the hospital to start another round of chemotherapy. Thomas has a blood type of A positive, and those who would like to donate blood for him can visit their nearest Indiana Blood Center.

Thomas said he and his family have considered other treatment options, but decided the risk was too big.

"There were other options than chemotherapy, like a bone marrow transplant, but we decided as a family against it because the risk level was way up there," he said."

Thomas encourages those who may be diagnosed with any type of cancer, or anything else, to always get a second opinion.

"I would like to return to my practice in a few months, but I want to emphasize how important it is to get another opinion on your diagnosis," Thomas said. "Even though it can be hectic to do so, it is still important, if nothing else, to make sure you are getting the right treatment. Also, if you can, try to find some extra support from those who may have the same condition as you."

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God's peace

-- Posted by madmom61 on Mon, Jan 14, 2008, at 7:38 AM

Mark is truly a very nice guy. I enjoyed my first sky dive jump with him and another friend in 1999.

God bless you and your family, Mark!

Our prayers are with you.

-- Posted by Dagnabbit on Mon, Jan 14, 2008, at 11:06 AM

I pray for Mark and his family every week, he is a wonderful and talented person and I admire his faith and bravery in fighting cancer. Mark has so many friends, family and church members praying for his recovery.

-- Posted by 5longyears on Mon, Jan 14, 2008, at 8:40 PM

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