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Inspirational Stories

Nick

Stage III – IV, non Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), B Cell, Nodal Marginal Zone (NMZL)

Cincinnati, OH

I’m 32 years old and I'm from Cincinnati, OH. My wife Shelby and I have been together since December 2012 and have been married since February 22, 2016. We have three amazing sons who keep us busy and playing zone defense daily. Our twins are 5 and our oldest son is 7. Shelby and I had 6 good months together before I got sick and that has been a major piece of our journey to this day. We were kids ourselves when she took me to the hospital for the first time - I was 23 and she was 22. As a result of my life experiences and personal growth journey, I'm fanatical about maximizing my potential and time on earth. I really believe in being present and harnessing the power of now. Before beating addiction and cancer, I used to think I was present because I was providing for my family and often home. Through intentional growth and radical self-awareness, I realized my previous understanding of presence was not what I understand it to be today. I was just existing then. My body was physically present, but my mind and spirit were elsewhere. For years, I feel like I wasted some precious time and moments that I took for granted. 

Today, coming out on the other side of cancer and having gone through nine years of medical trauma and addiction, I look at my time differently and I know that it's not infinite. I realize that I don't have nine years, nine months, or even nine minutes. All I have is this moment, right now. I try not to put anything off and I never delay gratitude. I bring this very mentality into how I live my life. I really believe in living and leading by example, rather than telling people what to do. When the pandemic kicked off and we all watched George Floyd get murdered, the world was at a heightened place of emotions that I hadn’t ever experienced before. I didn’t like what I saw, heard, or how I felt. I thought to myself, what can I do to really make a difference here? I tried protesting but that was not my thing. I also didn’t want to go to war with people on social media ultimately sacrificing my own peace. As I continued to meditate and pray, it became clear that the solution was to be the change that I wished to see in my community and to start with improving myself. I realized I wasn't doing anything to invest in or improve myself and that I needed to start with me. And so, I started intentionally leveling myself up mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally, daily, and dismantling all my self-limiting behaviors, thoughts, and feelings while cultivating a new me. This lifestyle became something that morphed into what I trademarked as Mundy Mindset. I started my first business, a mindset and wellness coaching practice, to give back to others and to help them create sustainable, fulfilling, major life transformations. 

I'm extremely passionate about life and I want to leave a legacy that I'm proud of and that inspires and leaves people positively impacted forever. I think some of my superpowers are resilience and perspective, having gone through all these things, understanding how fragile life is and really capitalizing on my time despite my current life situation or circumstances. I no longer let fear stop me or dictate how I utilize my time. I realized I wasted a lot of my twenties living and operating in fear which wasn't really living at all.  

I'm passionate about using my story and my journey to give back to others in hopes that I can help inspire people to start living consciously and in alignment with the best version of themselves. I’m also using my platform to give healthy individuals a prevention mindset and understanding because we know cancer will impact one in three people. Looking at my three boys makes that statistic very real. I want them to have a blueprint or a road map to see that It's possible to continue to have a very positive, fulfilling life, and a transformational experience if you lean in rather than numb, avoid, or run. I want them to see the power of choice is always in your own hands and realize you can make the best of nearly any experience in this life. That's who I am and what I'm about in a nutshell. 

My wife and I met in December of 2012 and then in July of 2013, I got sick for the first time. I had some issues where I was having incontinence one night.  We had only been together for 6 months at the time and I was not trying to wake her up and tell her I was having issues peeing. I had no idea what was going on and after suffering in silence for a few hours, I woke her up and was like, “hey, we’ve got to get to the hospital, and I need you to help me get there.” At the hospital, they ran several labs and took a CT of my abdomen to see if I had kidney stones or what was going on exactly causing my incontinence. They realized my prostate was enlarged and my heart was also enlarged. They gave me some medicine to treat the prostate swelling and called it prostatitis. But my heart was a major concern of theirs and they recommended I see a doctor immediately once returning home to Cincinnati. They strongly suggested I cease all physical activity immediately and stop playing basketball until I knew what was going on. Hearing this was scary but also didn’t seem real. I thought I was invincible at that time. I had just graduated from the University of Cincinnati and was beginning my professional career at 23 years old. What in the world could possibly be wrong with me? I work out and play basketball regularly. I’m young and shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Right?

That was the first time I thought maybe something's off. I had been experiencing lightning like chest pains for a while that I continued writing off as pectoral muscular discomfort. I proceeded to follow up as directed to get answers and see cardiologists. Over the course of the next 12 months my physical condition continued to worsen. I lost 49 pounds, my lymph nodes in my neck started bulging like golf balls. I was having night sweats, severe fatigue, stomach pains, rashes, swelling in my feet, hives, and heart palpitations to the point where I believed my heart was stopping and that any moment could be my last moments alive. I had surgery to remove some lymph nodes from my lower abdomen from the left side first and the pathology results were inconclusive. I then had surgery to remove lymph nodes from my vocal cords for a potential diagnosis based on things they had seen in my CT and PET scans. I had a bone marrow biopsy as well but no concrete diagnoses as the pathologists weren’t in agreement on the exact issue. Every lab and biopsy I endured was inconclusive, leaving me a little more defeated each time. To my local Oncologist here in Cincinnati, it looked like I had some sort of lymphoma, but they couldn't find which kind I had specifically. He refused to treat me with a partial diagnosis. I had bone marrow taken twice that year. Once here in Cincinnati and then again in July of 2014. A year of being sick and almost, you know, to the point where we thought I was going to die because I looked bad and felt even worse.

Thankfully, my oncologist was able to get me into the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. I went to the Mayo Clinic for the first time in July of 2014, and while there, I had full body plasma transfusion, my 2nd bone marrow biopsy and finally, surgery on my heart as well because my heart had been so enlarged and that was a big piece of what they were concerned about. About two weeks after the surgery, I finally received a diagnosis. It was an autoimmune disease called IgG4-RD related disease, and they called it a pseudo lymphoma because it looked like it mimicked a lot of the symptoms of lymphoma. My lymphatic system had been attacked by this autoimmune disease which was causing me issues very similar to that of someone with lymphoma, so they treated it like a lymphoma. They treated it with intravenous rituximab and high doses of steroids. I officially started chemotherapy for the first time in August of 2014 for this previously existing autoimmune disease that had, you know, done a number on me physically, mentally, and emotionally. Shortly after starting chemo, I got my first port put in and the following day I contracted the shingles virus which was one of the most painful experiences of my entire life. I went to chemotherapy every week for a month and received fluids on days in between. And then every eight weeks for nearly 3 years. We found that we had a good routine with the 8 weeks and then as time went on, I eventually got better. My oncologists gradually stepped me down to every four months and every six months and eventually 9 months. Throughout this time, I was working at the Fortune 500 company I started at in September of 2013 and moving up and progressing in my career. Eventually, the family and I moved to Minnesota for a promotion 2018. It was totally ironic that we moved there and had nothing to do with me being a patient at Mayo clinic at that point. My previously existing autoimmune disease was kind of at bay and things seemed to be going well. I had my port removed in the spring of 2018 that I originally had placed in August of 2014 because I wasn't having chemo as often. I saw getting my port removed as a mental victory that I hadn't had in a long time, so my oncologist said let's get it out!

The next couple of years following 2018, I didn't have many health issues really regarding my previous medical conditions. I did however have some other major life issues that I had developed as a result of everything I had endured prior. I was overweight from years of taking steroids and not focusing on my nutrition. Eating anything that I wanted without thinking about the repercussions of my choices. I also admitted myself to drug and alcohol rehab as a result of becoming chemically dependent on prescription drugs and alcohol. When I first got sick, I was so young, and I was so afraid of dying. I didn't have any real psychological advocacy or help in the mental and emotional department and continued to numb myself with the medication and anything else I could that would help me cope.

I had so many ailments and procedures done in those early years that I was getting prescribed lots of pain pills. I was also very anxious which was understandable for everything I had gone through. No one hesitated to give me medicine for that, and I became addicted to it over time. It not only helped suppress my feelings of anxiety, but it also dulled my fear of dying, allowing me to take a few pills and bury everything down deep so that I wouldn’t have to talk about it or confront it. Instead of talking about it, I just medicated with everything that they gave me and eventually anything that was available. After I got my port out, I'm thinking life should be good now that I’m not regularly fighting to stay alive. But life had gotten even harder as I was making decisions daily that were risking my life and the lives of others in the name of satisfying my chemical dependency. After growing tired of being sick and tired and not understanding why I simply couldn’t stop, I had a wakeup call and realized I must do something to try to save my life, my marriage, family, and my job. Fortunately, all those things were still intact when I went to rehab on May 30th, 2018, at Hazelden Betty Ford in Center City, MN. I came back home 30 days later and really started living. I went to therapy for the first time, started really talking about things and working on things and got away from taking a whole bunch of medicine to just taking 1 pill per day, which was an anti-depressant. Learning to live without drugs and alcohol was extremely challenging but the most rewarding feeling I had ever experienced. 

The family and I moved back home to Cincinnati, OH in March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic for another promotion. By that time, I was on a 9-month frequency for maintenance of therapy for my previously existing autoimmune and cardiovascular disease. At that point, everything had been going well with the nine-month frequency. Well, between COVID and miscommunications between the Mayo Clinic and my health insurance provider, there were some unforeseen challenges. I couldn't get back to the Mayo Clinic. I should have gotten my maintenance treatment it at the nine-month mark, but I couldn’t get it due to insurance billing issues and restricted travel. I got to the 12-month mark in December of 2020, when I finally went in for a PET scan here in Cincinnati. When I got the results back in early January, I didn't know exactly what was going on. It said abnormal literally on every line next to the pathologists’ findings. I'm thinking well, that's weird because I'm in shape for the first time, I’m sober, and I'm feeling great. I had been working on myself mentally, spiritually, physically, emotionally. I'm like, what's going on now? Looking back, I should have known something was up as I was experiencing severe night sweats at the time but otherwise felt great.

I sent my results to my oncologist at the Mayo Clinic. I got a message back almost immediately to schedule a telehealth appointment for us to speak virtually. What he saw on the PET scan was that I “lit up like a Christmas tree” in his words. I had signs of cancerous activity throughout my entire diaphragm on both sides, my spleen, my liver, and it had started to creep into my bone marrow as well. They knew I had some sort of cancer at that point that was further along, but they weren't sure which kind. I flew back to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, in early February of 2021 and had my left axillary lymph nodes removed from the side of my chest and armpit for the pathologists to get a better look. On February 17th, 2021, I was diagnosed with Stage III – IV, non Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), B Cell, Nodal Marginal Zone (NMZL). I had been a case study at the Mayo Clinic from my previously existing rare autoimmune disease and was about to become a double case study due to the rarity of my cancer. I was the 2nd patient that my oncologist had ever had to have the lymph nodes and the heart impacted by my autoimmune disease. It was just a wild thing. So only two in his history and the Mayo Clinic had started diagnosing that condition in 1998, which makes it, you know, crazy hard to diagnose, especially if you’re not at the Mayo Clinic. He tells me “You’re the first person I’ve ever treated whose IgG4-RD autoimmune disease mutated into a full-blown cancer.” I believe roughly 2% of people that are diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma are diagnosed with B-Cell Nodal Marginal Zone. So, what we thought was at bay was back and was a brand-new challenge, completely different, and way more serious than before. This is crazy because when I got sick the first time, I didn't have any kids, and now I have 3. I've got a lot more to lose and way more fight in me. I was also way more put together at this point as far as how to handle this emotionally and mentally. I didn't let myself go to Google or WebMD and start looking. With my years of previous experience, I knew I had to manage my expectations and everything that was in the span of my control. I really leaned into this and was like I'm going to give this everything I’ve got. And I believed that if I did what I was supposed to do, I would be okay.

It was a very rough experience. I got my second port implanted March 2, 2021 and was so sick at the time. My lymph nodes were so large and uncomfortable. They were bulging again in my neck and throat area. I literally had to move them by nudging them to the side just to swallow a drink or to eat. And so, at that point I couldn't wait to start chemotherapy, which is kind of crazy to think about. Who’s typically pumped about starting chemotherapy? I was hospitalized before starting chemotherapy after I came home from vacation due to contracting Shiga toxin producing E. coli. I had contracted it in Mexico on my wife’s 30th birthday as a result of having no immune system and being on steroids. That prolonged the start of the chemo for a few weeks as I wasn’t healthy enough to start on schedule. And then when I got into the chemo, it was extremely rough on me. I was hospitalized several times for febrile neutropenia. My white blood cells and neutrophils would crash, which was a scary and terrible feeling for me and my family. I continued working and physically going into the office throughout this time when I could because I couldn’t afford to not work as the sole provider for the family. I started chemotherapy at the end of March of 2021 and continued through August of 2021. I was going two times a month back-to-back, every 28 days. I would go two days in a row to receive two doses of intravenous bendamustine and rituximab as well as heavy doses of steroids. In between treatments, I would receive Granix or Zarxio and some other injections to boost my white blood cell count and to keep me at a healthy place so I could try to stay out of the hospital in between treatments. There were several 911 calls and emergency ER trips to the hospital during this time. Some dramatic and heavy stuff for me, my entire family, and my community. It’s difficult being in that position because you want to be strong and don’t want anyone to worry about you. But being strong and trying to hold out for everyone else ended up with me being taken out of my house on a stretcher for my oldest son and neighbors to see more than once. I learned a lot about humility and airing on the side of caution rather than toughness. By August 2021, I was hospitalized enough to the point where I was scared to go to back to chemo. I told work I couldn’t even begin to think about work anymore and I needed to get myself together physically, mentally, and emotionally to finish this last round of treatment strong. I'd seen what happens when people lose their mindset when they're going into chemo, or if they if they start to waver and they start telling themselves these things are going to happen. Things can really manifest quickly. And I did not want that to happen. So, I took some much-needed time to focus on slowing down and practicing paradoxical selfishness to give myself the best opportunity to finish this thing strong.

After finishing chemotherapy and receiving PET scans detailing no signs of cancer, everyone wanted to high five and celebrate. Everyone was so happy for me, but I was a little more reserved with my cheering. I was happy and extremely grateful, don't get me wrong. But having gone through all of this for past 9 years, I knew that there was no way that they were just going to let me be done all together. So, once again, I was managing my expectations. I allowed myself to celebrate a little bit, but I also understood that my body had been through hell and back multiple times. I knew I would probably have more challenging times ahead before I could truly be in the clear to celebrate. 

I knew that there was going to be an in-depth recovery process, mentally and physically, as so much had been taken away from me in chemotherapy. I went back to work on October 21st 2021, and didn't have any treatment or anything lined up at the time. I was excited and feeling reservedly optimistic. I went to the doctor the next day for a check-up and my oncologist said, “we're going to start you on maintenance chemotherapy treatment every 8 weeks for the next two years minimum this Friday.” That Friday I started maintenance chemotherapy receiving intravenous rituximab and steroids, along with Zarxio injections to help bring up my low WBC and neutrophil counts. I continued every 8 weeks through January and was feeling extremely run down. I kept getting sick and couldn’t seem to string together more than a few days of feeling well consecutively. I got COVID twice during that time. I had multiple sinus and upper respiratory infections amongst other things. My local oncologist decided we were going to stop the chemo altogether to give my body a chance to recover. He felt it didn’t make sense to keep me sick and feeling so poorly. We decided that we needed to let my body recover or else I’d continue making pop-up visits to the hospital and that was not the point of me doing the maintenance treatments.

I have been off chemotherapy since February of 2022 and continue to get checkups and my port flushed every 8 weeks. I continued dealing with low WBC’s and neutropenia which led my oncologist to taking a 3rd bone marrow biopsy in March of 2022 to rule out any potential resurging or new cancers or auto-immune diseases. The results of the bone marrow biopsy did not show any lymphoma, leukemia, or autoimmune disease, leading my treatment team to believe that my body is still slowly recovering from the bendamustine treatments in 2021. Since then, all my results have been healthy, and I continue to improve slowly but surely. 

I officially started my Mindset & Wellness Coaching business in December 2021 as a result of all that I have endured and gained along the way to give back to others. I continue to recycle my pain and turn it into purpose with passion. I continue to live in the moment and harness the power of now.

My wife, Shelby, is amazing. She encouraged me to share my journey via social media to have something to look back on and to help inspire others. I was in a demanding, tough, leadership position at the fortune 500 company I worked for since 2013. For many years in that job, I felt that vulnerability was a weakness. However, I learned at rehab and from leaning in that vulnerability is really a strength. How many blessings are multiplied by me opening up and sharing something that someone else may have had on their heart that they were scared to share? Being vulnerable has allowed me to create awareness for others and build some amazing relationships that may not have ever formed had I not shared my journey so authentically. Other cancer fighters, family members of cancer fighters, or people that are battling addiction. I didn't go through all this for nothing or just to keep all these lessons learned to myself. It’s my honor to pay it forward and be a beacon of hope for others that are still fighting and others who have not yet begun.

Today, I am building my business and offering in person and virtual coaching, guidance, and real time tools that people can use in real life situations to improve upon their lives holistically, despite their current life situation. I don’t understand why we don’t proactively develop our mindset and take control of our life before things get hard. Why don’t most of us intentionally do the things that make us healthier, feel alive, and fulfilled? Why wait or go through hell to act? All we have is right now and that's my driving motivator. To use this pain and recycle it for a purpose bigger than myself and spread knowledge to improve the lives of others. 

 I have hardly met any black people along the way at chemotherapy, rehab, or support groups. Black people go through these things just like others and I want to create awareness and help give back by using my story as much as I can on any platform possible. I think it’s important that other young black men and women see themselves represented here so that they understand there are resources available to them as well. There are certain cancers and diseases that disproportionately impact black and brown communities and most of us don’t even know it. I want to aid in breaking the stigma surrounding black men going to the doctor and getting routine check-ups. I watched my father go to the urologist for 20+ years to get his prostate and PSA levels checked and in year 20, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He is still alive today as a result of prioritizing his health. I am extremely grateful for him and my mother being exemplary role models in this area. If I can use my voice here to help save or improve the lives of my fellow people of color, I am more than happy to do it. 

I tell people all the time that the hardest part of my entire journey was maintaining my sobriety while going through chemotherapy. I knew that if I wanted to go back to using prescription medication to help make me more comfortable, nobody would have said anything or been upset. I could have gotten any prescription I wanted and could have asked for anything. Nobody would have said anything and I’m sure my doctors would have happily obliged if explained why I needed it. One of the first questions you’re asked by the nurses checking you in is, “do you need me to refill any of your prescriptions?” I took advantage of that the first time when I didn't realize how sick I was in my addiction. The whole experience was a little bit triggering to be honest. It was a little bit scary and extremely difficult at times. There were times where I went too long without speaking up about the pain I was in and suffered in fear of being seen as drug seeking, and that's why I probably ended up in the ambulance, making a VIP entrance to the hospital via the ER. I really had to be honest and speak to Shelby and my care team about the internal struggle that I was having. Together, they helped me navigate one of the most difficult times in my sobriety and life in general. I also had to advocate for myself as well and give myself some grace because there were days when I was in the hospital hurting and crying in agony. Shelby would remind me that, “you don't have to do this without medication. You are allowed to receive some help.” 

When I woke up out of that heart surgery in 2014 was the first time, I somewhat realized how special my case was. There were eight doctors in my room, and I'm talking of different nationalities, ages, and genders. I was trying to figure out what was going on and why so many people were in my room. Each one of them very nicely explained, “You're the interesting case. You never want to be the interesting case but we’re going to be working on your case together and you’re in good hands.” Going into the surgery I was so exhausted and defeated from going to doctor after doctor, having procedure after procedure, and not getting any answers while progressively getting worse. I had already thought I was going die at leading up to this surgery as they made it very clear to me and my mother just how dangerous the operation could be, not being fully aware of what was going with my heart. So, the fact that I woke up out of the surgery was already a huge win to me. I had already made it further than I anticipated I would so the way that I looked at being the interesting case was a blessing. Eight of the best brains and sets of eyes from around the world at the most world-renowned clinic. So yeah, I'm that guy. My head oncologist at the Mayo Clinic was like, “you should play the lottery because that's the chances of you getting something like this.” I looked at being the interesting case as my silver lining. I knew by me signing on for this case study that I was going have a lot of eyes on me and my case for years to come. I was sure I was going get a lot of calls and check-ins, but I also know I would get a lot of support. When I was offered to enroll into another case study following my Nodal Marginal Zone Lymphoma diagnosis in 2021, I approached it with the same mindset that I had in 2014. I get to be the interesting case. I’m blessed to be a case study and receive world-class healthcare. Every time I go to the doctor, there are multiple people that want to see me. There's always a student or someone who's studying my case. I always play nice because I'm of the mindset that hopefully all that I went through can be avoided for someone who walks in my same shoes one day in the future. Hopefully no one else must nearly die or go through all this just to get some answers and the proper care. I remember asking them what if I didn't have the resources that I have? What if I didn't have this type of insurance? How would someone get this diagnosis without those resources? I would have died had I not had those resources available to me and there's a lot of people that probably have not made it in the past because of that exact reason.

And just once again, not seeing anybody else that looked like me really talking about this, and then going to support meetings, it's predominantly older white people. And then there's me. Man, I’ve got to change this because we're getting cancer at a higher rate than some other races and ethnicities. There are several cancers that we're predisposed to and there’s a massive care and knowledge gap that’s holding us back from being proactive in prevention and finding the proper resources to help us in our treatment and recovery.

So, my connection to The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). One of my childhood friends growing up was diagnosed with leukemia when we were 11 or 12. I just remember him going through a very challenging time and it was awful. When were young adults he was being honored for raising a significant amount of money at the Leukemia Lymphoma Society ball here in Cincinnati. My parents, Shelby, and I went to support him. At the time, I didn’t feel like I fit in or belonged because I hadn’t technically been diagnosed with cancer yet even though I was actively receiving chemotherapy for my lymphatic autoimmune disease that my oncologists had classified as a pseudo lymphoma. After receiving my diagnosis of Lymphoma in 2021, I received financial assistance from the LLS in 2022. This was the first year in my entire nine years of being sick that I received financial support and networking opportunities and information. The financial support of $5,000 toward medical bills and treatment made the biggest difference in my year for my family. I am extremely grateful for the LLS and want to stay involved in any capacity that I possibly can moving forward. Thank you so much for reaching out and for this opportunity. 

Nick