A ‘lucky’ trip to the ER realigns priorities for Eden Prarie resident

Luck is a relative thing. Cancer patients know this.

Randy Westphal of Eden Prairie was diagnosed almost one year ago with leukemia after an emergency room visit showed a sky-high white blood cell count — 268,000 compared to a normal 4,000-10,000.

“It was one of those ironic situations,” the 40-year-old said. “In hindsight, this trauma situation clearly could have saved my life.”

He was not experiencing any effects — bruising, fatigue, enlarged spleen — of the leukemia that otherwise would have led to a doctor visit. “I’m hoping that that meant we caught mine early on,” Westphal said. “I was lucky. I was simply lucky.”

Lucky, and shocked. “I just think the word cancer gets your attention,” he said.

He got over an initial feeling of disbelief to embrace a program run by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society that raises money to save the lives of people like himself. The Team in Training program enlists people to participate in events like marathons and triathlons as money is raised to fund the development of life-saving drugs.

Westphal is one of 25 local honorary Team in Training teammates who have a friend or loved-one training and competing in their honor. Last year, Westphal’s girlfriend completed the Twin Cities Marathon in his name as part of the program.

Westphal is hoping to find a drug that works to fight back the cancer and avoid a bone marrow transplant.

“LLS and Team in Training are a huge part in how these drugs are developed. I’ve been fortunate to feel that first-hand,” said Westphal, who has tried two drugs in his treatment so far.

First, was one called Gleevec. When that didn’t yield the desired results, doctors put Westphal on Sprycel.

“It’s a little too early to tell if that is 100 percent successful,” said, Westphal, reporting minimal side effects. “There have been positives. … I’ll know a lot more in two months if that’s the drug that they’ll continue to keep me on.”

He has three drugs left to try before the last resort. “We hope one of them will put me in remission,” he said. If that fails, a bone marrow transplant is the next option.

It used to be the only option. Those drugs did not exist 11 years ago, Westphal noted. “So you were hoping to get to a place where you could have a bone marrow transplant and if you could not do that, people were trying to keep you comfortable for a year or two,” he said.

Again, Westphal feels lucky. “What these people are doing with LLS and Team in Training — I’m a direct beneficiary of that,” he said.

“I’m very fortunate because I haven’t had to have a (bone marrow) transplant yet,” Westphal said.

“If I can help educate anyone, that’s what I want to do.”

Westphal has received an education of his own over the last year. “I could not have spelled leukemia,” he said. “I don’t know anything about it, and now I know a whole lot.”

Contact Jane Jones at [email protected]