In 2013 Eddie Robinson, the assistant fire chief at the Cherokee County Fire and Emergency Services, had been feeling fatigued for months and was waking up with night sweats. Curious of what might be the issue, he scheduled an annual exam with his primary care physician.
The doctor found that Eddie’s blood test results showed a very high white blood cell count and wrote him a prescription for antibiotics to see if it would help his symptoms. He continued to be symptomatic until his next appointment in late 2014. Eddie went in for another exam and his primary care doctor recommended he see a blood specialist since his white blood cell count continued to show much higher results than the year before.
Toward the end of 2014, Eddie went to an oncologist where he was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL).
Eddie’s initial outlook was not optimistic. On his mother’s side, all 11 of his grandmother’s siblings had passed from some form of cancer. In addition to this, his initial experience with an oncologist was so poor, he knew it was not the place he wanted to be treated.
“It felt cold and the doctors were blunt,” Eddie said. “Everything felt programed as if I was being processed through a system so they could move onto the next patient. That made me lose confidence and trust in them during my visit.”
A friend recommended oncologist, Dr. Gena Volas-Redd, at Georgia Cancer Specialists, affiliated with Northside Hospital Cancer Institute, in Canton. His pleasant experience was the deciding factor for him receiving treatment within the Northside system.
“It was a totally different and I knew this was where I needed to be,” Eddie said. “When I was introduced to the two nurses in the infusion center by Dr. Volas-Reed, she said, ‘you are going to need to get to know these ladies because we’re all going to grow old together.’”
Eddie followed through with seven of the eight rounds of chemo. The treatment was hard on his immune system, liver and spleen.
“The nurses prepped me for everything that was going to happen; the nausea, the weakness, the potential lack of drive,” Eddie said. “They paired me with a nutritionist and treated me like family. They were always there for me and truly made a difference in my life.”
During his treatment time, he visited a group of firefighters that he works with a couple of times per year. Showing up with a baseball cap on while the rest of his group shaved their heads in support for him. When taking a group photo, they asked him to take off his hat. Not losing a single hair from treatment, he was the only one in the photo with hair on their head.
Now in remission, Eddie goes to see Dr. Volas-Redd twice a year and his primary care physician four times a year. He is on a six-month rotation for visits to the hospital to receive blood work. He also sees his liver specialist, because his liver and spleen have become enlarged due to the cancer treatment. Eddie appreciates how personable and supportive his physicians are with him.
As an emergency medical technician, Eddie saw the physical and mental impact cancer had on people, but knew his support group would help him through. His wife of 30 years, along with his two children and his work family made sure he stayed positive. Eddie says anyone going through this experience should surround themselves with positive people.
“Develop a support group, find a group of doctors who know each other and communicate well,” Eddie says. “Also, be a participant in your treatment plan. Nobody knows your body better than you do.”
*The health story shared here may portray atypical results of survival for this type of cancer, given its severity and stage. Atypical results are considered surviving a cancer that has less than a 50 percent five-year survival rate. Patients should consult an expert to discuss specific treatment plans and the possible outcomes before making medical decisions.