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After loss of Blake Nordstrom, lymphoma and its treatment risks in spotlight

Blake Nordstrom, co-president of Nordstrom, Inc. talks during the Nordstrom annual shareholders meeting in downtown Seattle in 2014. Nordstrom, who led the upscale department store chain with his brothers Erik and Peter, died Wednesday at age 58.
Blake Nordstrom, co-president of Nordstrom, Inc. talks during the Nordstrom annual shareholders meeting in downtown Seattle in 2014. Nordstrom, who led the upscale department store chain with his brothers Erik and Peter, died Wednesday at age 58. Associated Press file, 2014

Every five minutes someone in the United States is diagnosed with lymphoma.

That’s according to the Lymphoma Research Foundation on its website. After the unexpected death Jan. 2 of Nordstrom co-President Blake Nordstrom, the question remained how someone could go from a lymphoma diagnosis in early December to experiencing such a rapid, fatal decline?

For patients grappling with their own cases, it’s important to note that deaths from lymphoma are on the decline. But side effects from treatment, or the effects of a more advanced cancer, can still be lethal.

According to cancer statistics from 2008 to 2014 from the National Cancer Institute, 86.6 percent of patients survived five years with Hodgkin lymphoma, with death rates falling on average 2.8 percent each year over 2006-2015.

The five-year survival rate was at 71.4 percent for those with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, with death rates falling on average 2.2 percent each year over 2006-2015, according to the institute.

As the American Cancer Society notes on its informational page: “Many of these people live much longer than 5 years after diagnosis.”

Frank M. Senecal, MD, FACP, oncology director for CHI Franciscan, answered questions from The News Tribune via email on what patients and those newly diagnosed diagnosed should keep in mind.

“It is not typical for a patient to abruptly pass away from lymphoma,” Senecal said. “Most often if it occurs it is due to far advanced disease or a side effect of treatment such as infection.”

“There are many different types of lymphoma, some are very aggressive and some are less so. Sometimes lymphoma can be really aggressive which may lead to death. A side effect of treatment may be low white cell blood count and low resistance to infection due to drugs. This can make a patient more susceptible to infection and they potentially get septic, despite the doctor’s best efforts to prevent this.”

Last month, Nordstrom, 58, released a statement discussing his diagnosis: “As I focus on my health and knowing some days will be better than others, I’m told I can otherwise continue to work throughout this process as normal.”

This type of cancer is not easily screened, so pay attention to how you feel and whether you notice any abnormal swelling.

“If you notice a lymph node enlargement in neck area, groin, under the arms, you should talk to your doctor,” Senecal said.

“Unlike cancers that are routinely and easily screened for such as breast cancer or colorectal cancer, lymphoma is a little more difficult to screen for, so patient awareness of their general health is important.”

Other potential symptoms: fever, chills, night sweats, weight loss, fatigue and abdominal swelling.

According to the Mayo Clinic, risk factors can include having a compromised immune system or development of certain infections such as the Epstein-Barr virus or Helicobacter pylori infection. Men also are slightly more at risk than women to develop lymphoma, and different types of the cancer are more common in different age groups.

In an email Wednesday to Nordstrom employees from its executive team, the company said: “We’re devastated by this news. Blake was a tremendous leader who personified the heart and soul of Nordstrom and our values. He was passionate about the people in this company and had a deep connection with those who directly served our customers. He will be greatly missed by all of us at Nordstrom.”

Nordstrom, great-grandson of company founder John W. Nordstrom, had worked for the retail chain for more than four decades.

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