Young father of three battles for life
Almost a year ago, Dean Sinibaldi, a 29-year-old Cape Coral native and resident, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The following is his story.
Summer, 2014: Twenty-nine-year-old Dean Sinibaldi notices a lump in his left armpit. A driller for an oil company, working alternating two-week shifts in North Dakota, he passes it off as some minor, work-related injury.
September, 2014: Experiencing chronic pain in his chest, left bicep, forcep and shoulder blade, Dean checks himself into the ER at the Cape Coral Hospital. The results of an ultrasound send him straight to his primary care physician, who refers Dean to an oncologist surgeon. A CP scan reveals diffuse large B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The disease is so rare in men his age, the biopsy is sent to Massachusetts General Hospital for confirmation of the finding.
ROUND ONE – CHEMOTHERAPY
After an echocardiogram and a bone marrow biopsy, Dean receives a chemotherapy port and three days later, the first of six cycles of R-chop chemotherapy begins.
“The first treatment very rough,” Dean admits. “I was very tired. They gave me medications for nausea and all that, but it’s not fun.
“In the meantime, I’m trying to figure out how we will live and keep my insurance. Then the company I was working for agreed to pay me a partial salary and my insurance premiums through the entire treatment.”
November, 2014: After the fourth chemo cycle, the tumor under Dean’s left arm is shrinking but a CT scan shows that the cancer is still active. His hematologist/oncologist in Fort Myers orders two more cycles of chemo.
December, 2014, Two days before Christmas: With the price of oil dropping sharply, Dean’s employer decides they can no longer assist him; he will either be laid off or must file for a Family Medical Leave of Absence (FMLA). Confident that he will recover and return to work, Dean files for FMLA.
January, 2015: After his sixth round of chemo, another CP scan reveals that the cancer still active. Dean is referred to a hematologist-oncologist at the Moffit Cancer Center in Tampa. But first, a needle aspiration biopsy is taken to determine whether the activity under his left arm is malignant or benign.
“I was driving home from Tampa when I got a phone call from my oncologist in Fort Myers saying the biopsy was negative. That was really good, very relieving. I went back to work.”
May, 2015: Dean calls his wife from the oil field in North Dakota. “I’m telling my wife that I’m going to get laid off. So many people are losing jobs; the price of oil is going down consistently. And I’m telling her I don’t feel good. I’m in a lot of pain. I’m pretty sure the cancer is back.”
Dean comes home for a C scan. The cancer has reoccurred in his left armpit, on his spleen, and in 2 spots on his vertebrae. He is in stage 4 of non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
“So, at this point, I know I will be undergoing R-ice chemo and a stem cell transplant.”
ROUND TWO-INTENSIVE CHEMO
On May 16, the first of 2 rounds of R-ice chemotherapy, a conditioning therapy for the autologous stem cell, or bone marrow transplant, begins.
“The side effects of R-ice chemo hit a lot harder. I’m having digestive tract issues and some concentration and memory is gone, and I have high blood pressure. I experienced my worst blood count during these 2 rounds and had to get a platelet transfusion about 2 weeks ago. Right now, one of my biggest problems is pain in my joints.”
At the conclusion of the R-ice therapy, and after three days in Moffit for vital organ testing and more C scans, Dean still has spots on his spleen, but for the moment, the cancer is inactive. It’s time to move.
NEXT: ROUND THREE- TRANSPLANT
July 24-28: Day Minus 5 Day Minus 1
In the priming phase, a long thin tube (intravenous catheter) called a “central line” will be run into a large vein in Dean’s chest or neck. This line will be used for stem cell collection and transplant.
Dean will also receive a series of Neupogen shots twice a day for a total of eight shots. Neupogen is a drug that stimulates the bone marrow to produce healthy stem cells that can help kill the cancer cells.
In the ensuing collection phase, blood will be drawn from a vein and circulated through a machine that separates Dean’s blood into different parts, including stem cells. These stem cells are collected and frozen for future use in the transplant. The remaining blood will be returned to Dean’s body.
The conditioning process preceding the transplant follows. Dean will undergo chemotherapy treatments to kill any cancer cells left in his body, to suppress his immune system and to prepare his bone marrow for the new stem cells. This intensive Beam chemo “pretty much kills all the cells in my body, so I will have no immune system.”
Aug. 1: Day Minus 0-TRANSPLANT
On the day of the transplant, the stem cells that have been frozen and thawed will be infused into Dean’s blood stream through the central line. He will be awake during the procedure.
The transplanted stem cells will make their way to his bone marrow, where they begin creating healthy, new blood cells. It can take a few weeks for new blood cells to be produced and for the blood counts to begin recovering.
His susceptibility to viral and bacterial disease at this time is so acute that he cannot leave Tampa for at least two weeks following the transplant. During this time, they will take blood every day, monitoring for white and red blood count, platelets, hemoglobin and iron, feeding Dean antiviral and antibiotic drugs. If complications arise, he will have to remain in Tampa under close medical care indefinitely.
Recovery from stem cell transplant is from 10-12 months. Dean will not be able to return to work for months after that.
“You only need the light when it’s burning low”
– Lyrics from “Let Her Go” by Mike Rosenberg, from the album, “All the Little Lights.”
Dean had told his wife last May, when he called her from the North Dakota oil field, that he might be laid off. He was. He applied for unemployment benefits, but was denied; one of the requirements for acceptance is that the applicant be physically capable of and actively looking for work. Social Security Disability has been granted, but Dean will not receive his first check until December.
He has no income.
“I’m a very work-oriented, goal-setting person. I’ve worked on drilling rigs for 10 years, and the cancer has taken that away from me. Cancer can’t take love, or happiness-you can let it, but technically it can’t do any of those things, but it has definitely limited me in what I can do as a husband, a father, and a man to provide for my family as have done for last 13 years.
“I just hope the treatment works. I’m really scared of going into this. Being 29 and having a wife and three kids, it’s very hard. I’m more worried about them than I am myself. If I pass away, who’s going to take care of them, who’s going to watch over them and provide for them?”
Statistics give Dean a 30-40 percent chance that the lymphoma will reoccur.
Dean has received a $2,500 grant from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Foundation to help pay his medical insurance premiums, and members of his church, Grace Community in Cape Coral, have given what they can. His mother-in-law has paid his last two month’s rent, but she cannot continue to do that indefinitely.
And Dean’s wife, Stephanie, is seeing an oncologist. A C scan has revealed three spots in her body.
The Sinibaldi’s 3-and-a-half-year-old son is being tested for autism.
“It’s been a never-ending cycle of turmoil,” Dean admits.
“I’m tired, but I try to do everything I’ve always done with my wife and kids. When I was working, on my days off we would go to parks, watch movies, play video games. We love to go bowling. I was able to sign up for Kids-Bowl-Free, where you pay 20 bucks and you can bowl two games free every day in the summer, so that’s nice.
“About 2 and a half years ago, I bought a guitar and since I’ve been home, I’ve worked at learning how to play a little bit more. I like to play some Blues and Classic Rock-a wide variety.”
His favorite song is “Let Her Go” by the group called “Passenger.”
“But you only need the light when it’s burning low
Only miss the sun when it starts to snow
Only know you love her when you let her go”
When Dean goes to Tampa for his stem cell transplant next week, he would like to have his wife with him, but there’s no money for a room either for her or for the two of them during his weeks of recovery up there.
The children will be cared for by his mother and mother-in-law for a little while, but rent and utility bills will continue through the year or more before Dean can hope to return to work. And his children need clothes and shoes and school supplies and the family needs groceries.
If you would like to help a hard-working young man, and the family he loves, until he can get back on his feet, visit www.gofundme.com/vv2qw8 .