Stories of Hope

Justine, Hodgkin Lymphoma Survivor

In March of 2014, at the age of 19, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma (HL). I noticed a lump on my neck, as well as one in my armpit. I told my parents about it and continued to monitor the lumps. When they became bigger and seemed to have moved around a bit, since I was a freshman in college, I went to the campus doctor for my initial check-up. At his suggestion, I went to a medical center near school where I had a computed tomography (CT) scan and then a biopsy, which later confirmed a diagnosis of HL.

My family and I didn’t know anything about Hodgkin lymphoma. So, at first, I didn’t realize that I would need to have chemotherapy. I thought I would be given some antibiotics for a few months and be just fine. Even upon leaving the doctor’s office that day, I was not totally convinced that I had cancer. When I told my college roommates about my diagnosis, they were very shocked and upset because they had heard of lymphoma.

My parents and I chose a cancer center that had a good reputation and was close to home. It only helped when my best friend told me about the Four Diamonds program, a program that eliminates the costs for families affected by pediatric cancer, by using funds raised and donated by area high school students and Penn State University students each year. Since I was 19, and treated as a pediatric patient, I was fortunate enough to qualify for the program, and have a consultation that reconfirmed my initial HL diagnosis. Upon seeing the facility, we really didn’t feel the need to look at any other treatment centers. I am so grateful because being a part of this program was one of the biggest blessings that occurred during my diagnosis and treatment.

“I think having Hodgkin lymphoma has made me a more kind and caring person with a more optimistic perspective on life.”

Having children in the future was a big concern for me. After discussing fertility and treatment options with my healthcare team, we decided my treatment would consist of a six-drug combination-ABVEPC (doxorubicin hydrochloride [Adriamycin], bleomycin [Blenoxane], vincristine sulfate [Oncovin, Vincasar PFS], etoposide [Etopophos, Toposar, Vepesid], prednisone [Deltasone], and cyclophosphamide [Clafen, Cytoxan, Neosar]). This was a modified treatment from the typical four-drug combination—ABVD—and per my doctors, lessened my chances of infertility.

My advice for a newly diagnosed patient is not to let HL change your life in a negative way. While going through my treatment, someone told me that you can be one of three people after you’ve had cancer: 1) you can be someone who ignores it and tries to push it away; 2) you can be someone who lets it destroy you and lets it overcome you with sadness and sorrow; 3) or you can be open about it and who tries to inform the world and help others. I truly strive to be that third person which is why I am so grateful to have discovered the Lymphoma Research Foundation (LRF). Through my involvement with LRF as a Diplomat and through their wonderful platforms, I can share my story and help other young adults who are going through exactly what I went through. I have enjoyed being a part of the LRF’s Erase Lymphoma initiative, which is focused on adolescents and young adults. The initiative really takes into consideration what young people go through when dealing with a cancer diagnosis and survivorship after completing treatment.

One very important and useful resource I wish I had known about when I was going through my cancer treatment is LRF’s Focus on Lymphoma mobile app. It is an incredibly important and useful tool because it allows you to record meetings with your doctors, track your medications, and document side effects or symptoms you may be experiencing.

Having HL has made me view life and the world much differently. I think having HL has made me a more kind and caring person with a more optimistic perspective on life. It’s given me the knowledge and the strength to help others in ways I didn’t know were possible before. It is a part of my everyday life, and God has blessed me and my family many times over because of it.