Hermantown man battles rare cancerJake Carlson and Laura Bordson say they’re taking each day as it comes. That’s all they can do, given the fact that the cancer attacking Carlson has been diagnosed in only 200 people.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Jake Carlson and Laura Bordson say they’re taking each day as it comes.
That’s all they can do, given the fact that the cancer attacking Carlson has been diagnosed in only 200 people.
Carlson, 28, of Hermantown was working as a landscaper June 28 when he suddenly felt stabbing pains in his abdomen. Carlson and Bordson, 24, Hermantown natives who have been a couple for 3½ years, thought it must be appendicitis.
But a CT scan revealed something more alarming: a mass of 11 tumors in his abdomen.
Carlson, who had played hockey at Hermantown High School, at the junior league-level and in college without so much as a broken bone, learned on July 5 that without immediate, extreme treatment, he might have only two months to live.
It was devastating for Carlson and Bordson, who have two young children — Boston, now 2, and Scarlett, now 1. It was equally devastating for their parents.
“In that split-second, our lives changed,” said Carlson’s mother, Terry Carlson, 51, of Hermantown.
It was the beginning of a roller-coaster of developments for Jake Carlson and his loved ones.
A biopsy had revealed that Carlson has desmoplastic small round cell tumors, a form of soft-tissue sarcoma that wasn’t identified until 1989. Since then, 200 cases have been identified, with most afflicting adolescent or young adult males. No cause has been determined.
Dr. Jonathan Sande, an oncologist at Essentia Health, told Carlson he had seen it only once. But Sande had a contact: Dr. Brenda Weigel, a pediatric oncologist at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital, who has treated 24 of the known cases.
The first desmoplastic small round cell tumor patient Weigel treated 17 years ago is still alive, Jake Carlson said.
“The whole outlook changed, saying I could beat this,” he said.
Carlson underwent aggressive rounds of chemotherapy. Weigel outlined the treatment, which took place in Duluth. A scan in October showed a 20 percent shrinkage of the mass, and by December it was down another 20 percent. It leveled off at 50 percent in February.
Weigel told them that was to be expected. They’d have to turn to a different form of chemo.
The goal is to reach at least 60 percent shrinkage so the oncology surgeon can operate, Terry Carlson said.
Jake Carlson has had his own stem cells harvested. After surgery and another round of chemo, he will receive his own stem cells to promote healing. “And, hopefully, that will be the end of it,” he said.
Because this form of cancer is so rare, there really is no prognosis, Jake Carlson said.
“Every case is different, and everybody reacts differently,” Bordson said.
The good news is that he didn’t have any signs and symptoms pointing to cancer, such as weird blood counts, weight loss and fatigue, she said. “He is very strong.”
And when he’s not going through chemotherapy, Carlson feels fine, he said. The sharp pains that alerted him that something was wrong have never returned.
Carlson got his environmental science degree from Northland College in Ashland a month before the cancer announced itself. He hasn’t been able to return to work, but he hopes eventually to work as an environmental consultant or researcher.
In the meantime, he and Bordson are focusing their energies on beating cancer and on caring for their children. MinnesotaCare covers most medical expenses, but friends and community members have put together a fundraiser to provide for Boston and Scarlett.
Family members say they’re thankful for the community’s support, and they’ve relied on their faith to get them through the experience.
“Probably the most important thing in all of this is our faith and prayer,” Terry Carlson said. “That’s what we live on every day.”