There’s a term to describe what happens to surfers when they’re unable to paddle out beyond the breaking waves. They’re caught inside.
Lifelong surfer Andy Hutchison seldom has been caught inside. But he remembers experiencing a similar feeling on dry land.
In 2003, the athletic 35-year-old was getting ready to enjoy a baseball game with family – but was too weak to climb the stadium stairs to reach his upper-deck seat.
“When I couldn’t physically make it up the steps, I knew it was time to see a doctor,” Hutchison said.
Tests revealed the Encinitas resident had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a fast-growing cancer of the white blood cells most often found in children. Sabina Wallach of Scripps Health oversaw his cancer care and prescribed an aggressive course of chemotherapy.
Hutchison’s cancer was in remission within 45 days of starting chemotherapy, but he completed three years of treatment as prescribed. “With leukemia, it’s all or nothing,” he said. “You battle through the chemo, as if you’re still fighting it.”
Besides the good news of his quick remission, Hutchison drew strength from another source. One of his many hospital stays at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla coincided with the birth of his first child in the very same facility. Hutchison made the trip from his bed on the cancer unit on the sixth floor to the mother-baby unit on the second floor to observe the delivery of his daughter, Paige.
“Being there for her birth was overwhelming and inspiring, like going from one extreme to another,” he said.
Life took another turn for Hutchison a few years later. During a routine follow-up exam, he was diagnosed with chronic myelocytic leukemia, a slow-growing cancer involving excessive white blood cells. While Hutchison began searching for a bone marrow donor, he also started taking a relatively new drug, Gleevec. He was in clinical remission within 30 days and remains free of cancer today.
Now back to surfing, Hutchison credits his recovery to support from first wife Beth, family and friends – and the care he received at Scripps. “Dr. Wallach is compassionate and caring, but she attacks the cancer relentlessly,” he said.
Hutchison supports a variety of fundraising programs with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and volunteers as a surf instructor with the Wounded Warrior Project’s surf program.
Hutchison and Dr. Wallach will be honored during pregame ceremonies Aug. 20 at Petco Park. Scripps has been the official health care provider to the Padres since 1981. To find a Scripps physician, call 1-800-SCRIPPS.
- Stephen Carpowich