YouTube star and novelist Hank Green revealed his cancer diagnosis in a Vlogbrothers video on Friday that has garnered 6.6 million views as of Tuesday afternoon.
The popular internet personality will soon begin treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of blood cancer that affects the lymphatic system. He opted to first share his personal health news with the online community for which he creates a variety of content — sometimes with his brother John Green, the best-selling author behind books like The Fault in Our Stars.
“Everybody has been great and very supportive, but biopsy, uh, good news, bad news,” Hank Green said in the video. “One, it’s cancer. It’s called lymphoma. It’s a cancer of the lymphatic system. And good news is, it’s something called Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It’s the most treatable, like one of the most treatable cancers. It responds very well to treatment. The goal is cure.”
Indeed, the overall prognosis following a Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis is favorable compared with other cancers, Justin Darrah, MD, co-director of the lymphoma program at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, told MedPage Today.
“The reason I love to treat it, no matter what stage the patient is … it’s possible to cure the lymphoma,” Darrah said.
With other cancers that are late-stage, or stage 4, when solid tumors have spread to different parts of the body, it is typically not possible to cure the patient, Darrah said. Rather, the focus becomes prolonging the patient’s life and controlling the cancer’s side effects as best as possible.
However, Hodgkin’s lymphoma is different, he said. The staging is a little less important because very often the lymphoma is spread throughout the body but is quite responsive to chemotherapy.
In fact, research has shown that among treated patients with stage 3 or 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, about 75% to 85% remain in remission 5 years later, Darrah said. For those with earlier stage disease, about 96% remain in remission during that timeframe.
Prior to a diagnosis, patients typically notice symptoms such as asymmetric lymph node swelling, often in the neck, under the arms, or in the groin area, Darrah said. Other symptoms can include pain in the lymph nodes after consuming alcohol as well as fevers, night sweats, fatigue, and itchiness of the skin.
Hodgkin’s lymphoma tends to be a disease of slightly younger people, with a median age of about 39, he said. However, older people can be affected by it as well.
Out of roughly 70 different types of lymphoma, Hodgkin’s is not very common, Darrah said. It accounts for about 10% of lymphoma diagnoses.
Though the exact cause of Hodgkin’s lymphoma is not known, there are several potential risk factors such as having had mononucleosis, having a weakened immune system, being male, and having a family history of the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.
Green, in his announcement, said he had actually been looking out for potential warning signs of Hodgkin’s lymphoma prior to his diagnosis given that he knew he had a number of different risk factors for it, including having an auto-immune disease, having taken certain medications, and having had mononucleosis as a child.
Overall, however, a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma is something that is often unexpected, Darrah said. “This really takes people by surprise. … All of a sudden they need 4 to 6 months of chemotherapy, which can have a lot of side effects.”
“I’ve treated musicians who were planning to go on tour and things like that, and all of that gets put on hold,” Darrah said. “It’s a huge upheaval of people’s lifestyles and life plans.”
Oftentimes, when people get a diagnosis, they come into a physician’s office and go over everything, but it’s difficult for them to imagine what it will actually look and feel like to go through treatment, he said. So, to hear someone publicly talking about their own diagnosis, and their own experience, can help others envision the road ahead.
Green also addressed mental health in his announcement. Referencing advice he had received from friends who had previously been through cancer and related treatments, Green said, “One of the things that they all said is, ‘This is your job now, do this one day at a time.'”
“Don’t have obligations,” Green added. “You can have things that you can do, if you want to that day, and it’s good to have those things because depression and anxiety are a big part of this. And like, I’m not a person who has struggled a lot with that, but I have seen first-hand now how intricately linked those things can be.”
Ultimately, Green said, “I wanna be like fun, goofy, science guy, not like struggling with anxiety, cancer guy. And like, you know … you can be both.”