ESPN reporter who died at 34 didn’t know he had non-Hodgkin lymphoma — how common is it to not know?

ESPN reporter Edward Aschoff died Dec. 24 on his 34th birthday. His fiancée revealed on Wednesday that Aschoff had non-Hodgkin lymphoma — a disease that went undetected until a lung biopsy was performed after his death.

While his cause of death was pneumonia and a rare disease called hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH) — a condition in which the body makes too many activated immune cells, according to the National Institutes of Health — Aschoff’s fiancée Katy Berteau posted a thread on his Twitter account to share more details about what had happened. “I wanted to provide an update about Edward’s passing that may help people in processing it and making a little more sense of what happened,” she wrote.

In the second thread, Berteau wrote: “After his passing, the hospital received the final results from his lung biopsy. Unbeknownst to us, Edward had stage 4, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his lungs. This is an aggressive type of cancer that is usually undetectable until it is very advanced.”

She continued: “Both pneumonia and non-Hodgkins lymphoma can trigger HLH in the body and that is seemingly what happened with Edward. All of this combined is what led to his very rapid decline those last few days, and ultimately his passing.”

Berteau added that Aschoff would have wanted people to know “that something way bigger than pneumonia took him down.”

In a separate tweet thread, Berteau shared that learning this information about her fiancé has brought her some comfort, writing: “It has helped me knowing that his passing was inevitable, and I’m at least grateful he didn’t have to go through the painful treatment and drawn out process of battling the disease.”

What is non-Hodgkin lymphoma?

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is one of the most common cancers in the U.S., making up about 4 percent of all cancers in the nation, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

The disease is “a cancer that starts in white blood cells called lymphocytes, which are part of the body’s immune system,” according to the ACS. It often affects adults, but children can also develop the disease.

“Lymphoma affects the body’s lymph system, also known as the lymphatic system,” according to the ACS. “The lymph system is part of the immune system, which helps fight infections and some other diseases. It also helps fluids move through the body. Lymphomas can start anywhere in the body where lymph tissue is found.”

ESPN reporter, Edward Aschoff, died at 34 years old. It wasn't until after his death that a lung biopsy revealed he had stage 4 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. (Photo: ecaschoff via Instagram)

It’s not known what causes non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which is more common in people age 60 and older and affects more men than women. According to the Mayo Clinic: “In some cases, it's due to a weakened immune system. But it begins when your body produces too many abnormal lymphocytes — a type of white blood cell.”

How can non-Hodgkin lymphoma go undetected?

One of the most common signs of the disease are swollen lymph nodes — usually painless lumps or bumps under the skin, such as in the neck, underarms, or groin. But according to the ACS: “Sometimes it might not cause any symptoms until it grows quite large.” Other symptoms include chills, weight loss, fatigue, swollen abdomen, fever, drenching night sweats, chest pain or pressure, and shortness of breath or cough.

“The majority of patients who are diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma have symptoms,” Matthew Frank, MD, medical oncologist from Stanford Health Care, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “However, a significant minority of patients are found to have non-Hodgkin's lymphoma incidentally while working up another medical problem.”

Catherine Diefenbach, MD, a hematologist-oncologist and director of the clinical lymphoma program at the Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Health, tells Yahoo Lifestyle: “The symptoms of early stage lymphoma or indolent [causing little or no pain] lymphoma may be very non-specific and may mimic infection.”

In other cases, however, symptoms can come on quickly. “Aggressive lymphoma may present with significant symptoms in a rapid manner,” Diefenbach says. She explains that hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, or HLH — the disease attributed to Aschoff’s cause of death, along with pneumonia — is generally associated with aggressive lymphoma “and may present almost out of the blue in an extremely rapid fashion, and be challenging to treat.”

She tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “In this case, little may have been missed, as these lymphomas may cause significant symptoms in a matter of weeks.”

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