George Florentine bicycled from Louisville to his last chemotherapy treatment in May of 2012. It was his way of celebrating victory in a long battle with Stage IIIA Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
Riding as hard as he can has become a life metaphor for the 52-year-old Florentine. As long as he can ride, he is alive; the harder he rides, the more alive he'll be.
Florentine discovered lumps on his neck in February of 2010. He had 24 weeks of chemotherapy treatment and, despite some breathing problems that landed him in the hospital for a few days, things looked good after three months of clean reports.
In December, the cancer returned and with options narrowing, his Boulder oncologist recommended a stem cell transplant. Florentine was referred to the Colorado Blood Cancer Institute at Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center (CBCI). "I wasn't ready to be dead yet," he says.
His wife took a leave from her job and the two of them cleaned their house from top to bottom: air ducts, cupboards...everything. "Because to get ready for the transplant they give you this chemo that makes you totally vulnerable because you have no white cell count." He had the transplant in March of 2011, using stem cells harvested from his own body.
He had to give up the long bicycle rides he was accustomed to because any traumatic injury would have been dangerous. Florentine just set his bike up on a training apparatus and continued riding in his garage. "When your count starts going up you feel like you've been given a second life," he says. "Anything that allows me to live a long time...I'm pretty good with that."
Through CBCI, he was enrolled in a clinical trial for S-Gen 35, a drug since approved by the FDA. "This is kind of a wonder drug for some kinds of Hodgkin's," Florentine says. He got a dose every three weeks and through Google, located another Hodgkin's patient who shared his love of cycling and hooked him up with the LiveStrong group. "It's been a very powerful experience because a lot of times men have trouble sharing their emotions with other men."
His overall cardio-vascular function is less than it was before cancer, and he can't ride as hard as he used to, but he's alive and thankful, knowing he was in the right place at the right time – able to take advantage of the clinical trial offered at CBCI.
"It's a great time to be an oncologist," he says. "They do a really hard thing and I've been very grateful ... CBCI has such a great culture of competency, professionalism and support. And compared to a lot of people they deal with, my thing was pretty easy."