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The Warrior: Leonard Gilbert

The Warrior: Leonard Gilbert

The summer issues warrior is Leonard, a lymphoma warrior diagnosed during the pandemic.

As told to Britt Julious

In a time where everybody is getting COVID, I get cancer. 

I had retired from the Chicago Fire Department after 38 years. I had been working as a nurse as well. I decided to just concentrate on school. I was getting my doctorate from the University of Illinois as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. Things got very, very stressful. School was very difficult, and then COVID hit. 

On April 16, I woke up and found this lump on the side of my face. It was a little painful and numb. I had no idea what it was. 

I called the doctor and no one was seeing patients in person. He did a televisit with me and couldn’t get the gist of what it was. He suspected it was an infection, maybe a blocked saliva gland. They treated me with an antibiotic, but it didn’t go away or get better. I finally found an oral surgeon, a friend of my brother’s, who would see me in person. He referred me to an ear, nose and throat doctor who gave me a stronger antibiotic and said to wait a month. I got a CAT scan and something was there, but they didn’t know what it was. At this point, I’m almost three months in. I later received an ultrasound for a fluoroscopy-guided biopsy and received my lymphoma diagnosis. My treatment protocol was R-CHOP. I did six chemo sessions, three weeks apart, followed up by a repeat PET scan. It was almost gone, but not quite. They did radiation as well. 

I had one of the most amazing support systems I could ever imagine starting with my wife, who is a rock. I’m amazed to this day how strong and caring she is. I couldn’t have gotten through it without my family, my siblings, my friends and my wife’s friends. I was lucky to be in therapy. 

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I learned a lot of things about myself, my friends and family, about my spirituality, the things I believe in. I was running myself into the ground by working too hard, putting too much stress on myself and not taking care of my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs. I was 80 pounds overweight and diabetic with high blood pressure. I had joined a weight-loss program with my son and by the time my cancer came, I was probably 40–50 pounds lighter. Throughout the whole cancer treatment process, I lost another 30 pounds. I got back into cycling. I was riding somewhere between 12 and 20 miles, multiple times per week. During chemo, I was in the best physical shape I had been in as an adult. 

I occupied my time with good and positive things. I surrounded myself with good and positive people. It brings tears to my eyes thinking about all those things that have made my journey. It was pretty damn amazing.

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