“I feel supported by Fox Chase; they are family.”
I am a preschool teacher and the mother of three boys (ages 14, 12, and 7), so I am regularly surrounded by children and always on the move. Because of this, in the fall of 2018, I was not immediately alarmed when I started to experience back pain and felt run-down. I chalked it up to my hectic lifestyle and, even though I was only 38, I thought maybe these were just the aches and pains of aging. Around this time, I also lost a significant amount of weight. I had been making an effort to eat healthier and exercising, so it wasn’t obvious that this could be a red flag. It wasn’t until one evening in November when I felt a large lump on the left side of my abdomen that I knew something was wrong.
I kept up with my health and already had a checkup scheduled with my primary care physician. After discovering the lump, I called and they moved my appointment up. During my appointment, my doctor (who I had known my entire adult life) seemed worried. He ordered blood tests and a CT scan. The blood tests came back normal, which my doctor found encouraging, but he wanted to see the results of the CT scan before letting me know that everything was fine.
An Unexpected Diagnosis
I had my CT scan done the next day. Twenty-four hours later I received a call telling me that a mass was found in my abdomen (along with an enlarged spleen and lymph nodes). My doctor suspected lymphoma and immediately referred me to Fox Chase.
Receiving this news was one of the worst moments of my life. I was at work when I got the call, and I became hysterical. I was 38 years old with a family history of everything but cancer. This was uncharted territory; I didn’t know anyone who had cancer.
I work with my best friend, but was so distraught neither she nor my other co-workers could calm me down. Thirty minutes after receiving the news, my phone rang. Thinking it was my husband calling to pick me up from work, I answered; but it was Eileen Seltzer, a nurse navigator at Fox Chase. She was the only person that day who gave me peace of mind and was able to finally calm me down. She was so reassuring, telling me Fox Chase would do everything they could to help me. I got the news on a Friday, and the following Monday, I was en route to Fox Chase for my first appointment.
Dr. Sanjay Reddy, a surgical oncologist, was the first person I met at Fox Chase. During my first visit, he ordered a biopsy to see what type of lymphoma I had. After the biopsy, I met with a hematologist oncologist and Physician Assistant Nicole Bubes. With my husband by my side, my hematologist oncologist informed me I had a slow-growing, indolent non-Hodgkin lymphoma called follicular lymphoma. It was not curable, but it was treatable. I only heard the words “not curable,” and the reality sank in that I would have to deal with this for the rest of my life. My hematologist oncologist sensed this and calmed my fears, talking me and my husband through everything. I trusted her immediately and realized I had found the right place to receive treatment. I felt cared for at Fox Chase.
A Home Away From Home
My diagnosis was unique. Follicular lymphoma is usually diagnosed in older adults and observed over time. However, because of my age and the aggressive nature of my cancer, I quickly started six rounds of R-CHOP—a combination of drugs used as a chemotherapy treatment. When I first entered the infusion room, I was super nervous; but the nurses took me under their wing. After experiencing an allergic reaction during my first infusion, my hematologist oncologist and the infusion nurses realized I was allergic to the drug Rituxan (The R in R-CHOP). This meant my chemo infusions had to be slowed down, making a three- or four-hour process last eight hours. During these long treatments, the nurses became like family to me. One day, when my husband couldn’t sit with me, social worker Lisa Etkins kept me company throughout my entire treatment. Small moments like these meant the world to me, and suddenly Fox Chase felt like a second home.
During this time, I took a leave from work. I experienced all the unpleasant side effects of chemo, including weight loss, hair loss, neuropathy, and fatigue. On days when I felt good, I still went to cheer on my boys at their sports games and tried to keep things as normal as possible at home. But even though I felt great some days, my body had gone through major physical changes. My husband took over a lot of the household work (including cooking, cleaning, and chauffeuring the kids) so I could rest. My family was a huge support system and motivation for me. I felt like I got sick at the worst age because my kids still really needed their mother. Because of these feelings, my family and I decided to meet with a social worker from Fox Chase to help us better cope during my treatment.
Lasting Support Through Survivorship
My last treatment was March 28, 2019. It was both an exciting and bittersweet moment for me. My hematologist oncologist and Nicole were by my side as well as all of my infusion nurses. I felt a sense of accomplishment and relief that part of my treatment was over and I felt so special that my doctors and nurses shared that special moment with me. That May, my scans showed that I had a great response to the chemotherapy treatment. My lymphoma was inactive and I was in remission. Ecstatic doesn’t begin to describe how I felt when I heard that news. I was in total shock at the results!
I now see my hematologist oncologist every three to four months and I will have follow-up appointments for the rest of my life. Even though my active treatment is over, I still feel so supported by Fox Chase and I am grateful for everyone there. Along with seeing my hematologist oncologist, I also see a therapist and a nutritionist on staff.
I have been working on building my energy back up and getting back to the activities I love, including yoga and my new Peloton bike. And, after being so inspired by the pet visitors at Fox Chase, we decided to celebrate one-year cancer-free by getting a new puppy! Maisie Grace has brought so much joy to our family and is a wonderful reminder of survivorship. After six months of leave from work, I was able to go back for a period of time before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
My sons are my biggest supporters, and I often bring them along to Fox Chase survivor celebrations and benefit walks. This is a lifelong journey, but I find comfort in knowing that if my cancer comes back, there are treatments available and I will be supported by Fox Chase.
Learn more about lymphoma treatment at Fox Chase Cancer Center.