Black Hills State student takes on leukemia, pandemic

SPEARFISH, S.D. (AP) — For Brett Lamb, the fight against leukemia rages on.

Lamb, a football player at Black Hills State University, saw his world turned upside down in early July 2019, when he was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic (or lymphoblastic) leukemia in the bone marrow, where blood cells are made. It is more common in children than in adults. It is cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues, including the bone marrow and the lymphatic system.

Lamb was also diagnosed with Philadelphia chromosome.

This is where chromosome No. 9 and chromosome No. 22, which are both proteins, split off and create a different protein, and that protein then accelerates the spread of leukemia.

Shortly after he began treatment at the Medical City Children’s Hospital in Dallas, Texas, he began to go into remission for cancer, the Black Hills Pioneer reported,

Just when things appeared to be going good for him, Lamb suffered another setback in October.

“I almost died from getting a blood infection called sepsis. The doctor said I had about two hours to live. My girlfriend (Samantha Raile) drove me to the hospital at 5 a.m. I had an infection in my bloodstream, and my heart rate dropped. She saved my life that night,” Lamb said.

Lamb kept undergoing his chemo treatment, and this spring, he got some good news.

“The doctor told me I was in maintenance, and ‘you can go back to Spearfish.’ Three days later I left and came back to Spearfish,” said Lamb.

Lamb said he still gets his chemo through the medical port that was put in his chest a week after he was diagnosed with cancer.

“It‘s a little tube that goes from his jugular vein, and goes all the way to his heart helping pump blood throughout his body.

“It’s also where they pump in the chemo and the medicines I take instead of through an IV,” said Lamb. “They do that because there are certain chemos out there can make your veins turn black, and can effect your nerves.”

Lamb added that if he got the chemo he is getting right now through an IV and if the nurse didn’t get a good enough stick to the vein and it leaked out, it could really mess his arm up.

This June, Lamb suffered another setback.

Lamb went to Spearfish hospital and was transferred to Rapid City.

Lamb said going to the hospital this time was scary.

“I was really scared to be in the hospital here. With respect to all the doctors and nurses and all the treatment I got in Spearfish and Rapid City, but not having doctor, who is almost like my cancer family in Texas, who have been taking care of me for over a year, it made me nervous,” said Lamb. “They are people who know who I am, what to look for, what kind of symptoms effect me, because there are different ones for different medications and all types of chemo.” During his stay in the hospital, Lamb found out one of his medications causes him to retain water and he had developed fluid on his lungs.

“It sucked. It’s all caused from a pill I am on. It’s the one that saved my life, but it is also the one caused me the threatening symptoms. I had 800 milliliters of fluid in both of his lungs, and at first they thought it was pneumonia, and it was the fluid that cause the pneumonia,” said Lamb. “I was in Rapid City sitting on this table and they had to put two needles in my lungs to drain the fluid.”

Lamb said having the fluid drained from his lungs really made him angry.

”It really pissed me off. I just beat cancer and everything should be fine. I should be able to get back too everything,” he said.

The experience taught him a valuable lesson.

“I just have to be patient with everything. I just have to count my blessings, and realize that I just went through cancer, and not a lot of people do that. Some people make it out, some don’t. To me it’s almost like a flip of a coin. Things can change instantly,” he said.

Lamb said he, periodically, had to have the fluid drained from his lungs.

As much as he wants things to return to normal, Lamb knows he has to be careful, because his immune system is still weak and vulnerable.

“I still feel super vulnerable from everything going on. My immune system in still low, but it’s nice to be up here and do what I want to do. Hang out with my friends, hang out with my girlfriend, have my old life back, and the normality of everything has came back fast,” Lamb said

Lamb said he has also been struggling with some things physically as well.

“I have neuropathy in both of my ankles that my specific chemo therapy, called vincristine, gives me. It causes the nerves in the middle of my ankles and my thumbs. It kind of blocks them so I move hands around a lot, and get everything firing,” Lamb said.

Lamb added he has to have physical therapy on his feet.

“I can’t move my ankle all the way up and down, the flexibility of it. There’s just a lot of side effects from the chemo therapy I do,” Lamb said. “Everything takes time, I just need to be patient. I’m still getting chemo once a month, and I’ll be getting that for two years. I still have a medical port in my chest, “said Lamb. “Honestly it does suck not to be able to come right back and play, but it is what it is. I just got done fighting for my life. I didn’t expect all the treatments to be so hard, it was difficult.”

Lamb said after being diagnosed with cancer, he lost almost 80 pounds.

“Before cancer I was weighing roughly 225 pounds. I was strong, explosive, and most importantly somebody my teammates could trust on the football field. I was leader then, and I’m still a leader now,” said Lamb. “However this past year was very tough on my body, my weight dropped extremely fast, getting all the way down to 140 pounds. The way my body changed in only a few months was absolutely horrible. It made me feel very depressed, fearful for my life, and it made me question if I would ever play football again.”

Lamb says he is feeling great now.

“I still get chemo and spinal taps monthly, but I’m able to eat more food, have intensity throughout my workouts, and I’ve gained most of my weight back. Right now I’m weighing approximately 202 pounds with more to go,” he said.

Football has been a huge motivation for Lamb.

He still remembers during the 2019 season when he took the field for the first time since his diagnosis and got to flip the coin before the game.

“Football has been a huge motivation for me. Walking on the field for the coin toss was very emotional for me. I hadn’t stepped on the Yellow Jacket football field for five months and all the thoughts of cancer went away briefly,” said Lamb. Hearing all the fans, my teammates, and coaches all clap and cheer for me gave me that little bit of motivation to keep fighting for not only football but for my life. I’ll never forget that moment,” Lamb said.

Lamb has decided to have the port removed in the spring of 2021, so he can return to playing football in the fall 2021, with two years of eligibility remaining.

Lamb said he is fully aware of the risk of having the port removed.

“After battling cancer the past year and having a medical port inside my chest everything went a lot smoother. The reason I have my medical port is to push chemotherapy directly into the port rather than a vein, eliminating getting poked by needles and having tissue damage,” said Lamb. “The reason why I decided to have my port removed a year from now is to be able to play football. I’ll still be receiving this chemotherapy called vincristine once every month for two years, but football is incredible important to me and (part of) who I am, and I’m not going to let a medical device get in the way of that. So once my medical port is removed I’ll be receiving chemo therapy through a vein and most importantly I’ll be cleared to play football.”

Lamb is now taking classes on campus at Black Hills State, and he said that has been a challenge.

“Coming back to school, I was very excited. Being able to start classes again and just be a normal student was definitely a privilege. But with having an immune deficiency from all the chemotherapy this past year has made me worried about Covid and being around people during the school day,” said Lamb. “I try not to think about how it would affect me but it’s inevitable. All I can do is focus on keeping my distance, wear my mask daily, and be disciplined to keep myself healthy and safe on campus.”