Cancer Doesn’t Care About Age

Stunned to be diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in her early 30s, Stacy hurried to start chemo, and found it a lot easier than she had anticipated.

Stacy just couldn’t shake her cough. She and husband Ryan recently relocated to central California from out of state, and she deemed that California’s notoriously polluted air was causing her hack.

“I went to the doctor and was told that I had asthma,” says Stacy. “Apparently it’s quite common to acquire the condition after moving to California.”

Stacy was given an inhaler, but her cough persisted. Stacy then began to lose weight. She figured the weight loss was probably a result of her new chocolate lab puppy, Timber, who she had gone walking with every day in an attempt to wear him out.

As her seemingly innocuous symptoms continued, her right arm started to hurt. Her primary doctor suspected she may have had a blood clot, so she was sent to a nearby emergency room. Stacy indeed did have a blood clot, but the emergency room physician also discovered a mass in her chest that was much more of a concern.

Immediately transferred to another hospital, Stacy underwent further tests (tissue biopsy, imaging and blood test) that confirmed the mass was cancer. Only a few days after her 33rd birthday, Stacy learned she had stage 1b Hodgkin’s lymphoma (HL). The mass was putting pressure on her veins, causing the blood clot.

HL occurs when cancer cells originate in the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system. Primary symptoms of HL include swollen lymph nodes, abdominal pain and coughing. Stacy would require immediate chemotherapy. There was no time for fertility preservation, even though Stacy wanted kids one day, and the chemotherapy could cause infertility. She would have to fight her cancer first.

“Looking back I see the symptoms now but didn’t think it could have been that at the time,” says Stacy. “Cancer is scary at any age, but for me at my age the diagnosis was so unexpected and I felt so unprepared.”

Her Hodgkin’s lymphoma needed treatment now

After her initial round of chemotherapy in the hospital, Stacy needed to find a private practice to continue her treatment. When she found cCARE and confirmed that it was in-network for her private insurance, she booked an appointment immediately.

Dr. Steven Hager at cCARE saw Stacy right away and set her up on customized chemo treatments. For the next six months, she received a full day of chemotherapy infusions every two weeks.

“The whole team was so great and caring from the beginning,” recalls Stacy. “Dr. Hager answered all my questions, and I never felt rushed during my appointments. I felt like he was talking to me the way he would if I were his daughter getting treatment.”

stacey Hodgkin's lymphoma
Stacey with Timber. She and husband, Ryan, are pictured above.

Stacy says that she responded well to chemotherapy. “You see in the movies cancer and chemo patients being so very sick, and it was scary but I found the drugs I was given to combat the side effects worked wonders and it was not nearly as horrible as I thought it would be,” says Stacy.  “I did lose all of my hair, but I swear it grew back even healthier than before.”

Stacy says the chemo nurses were so friendly and really looked out for all their patients. They tried to make getting chemo less dreary and would bring snacks and warm blankets.

Ryan wasn’t able to take a lot of time off work but he could work remotely. So the chemo nurses would bring a table and set up a work station for him so he could work while still being with her during her chemo sessions. “The nurses were so accommodating during chemo,” she says. “They went above and beyond what I thought getting chemo would be like.”

Losing insurance coverage

About two months into her treatment, her private insurance declared that cCARE was no longer in network and wouldn’t be covering her chemotherapy. Stopping treatment wasn’t exactly an option that would work for Stacy, so cCARE’s grants program took care of everything from there.

Stacy sent in her tax returns, and cCARE’s grant coordinator applied for and received grants from lymphoma associations, and appealed to the insurance company to eventually get 100 percent of Stacy’s treatment covered.

“Cancer treatment is stressful enough, the financing aspect would have been such a headache,” says Stacy. “I’m so grateful for cCARE ; I literally sent in my tax returns and next thing I knew everything was taken care of.”

Stacy’s story gets better. She’s now pregnant without the assistance of fertility treatments. “Dr. Hager was confident that I would be able to get pregnant and gave me hope,” says Stacy.

Chemotherapy affects a patient’s fertility differently depending on her reaction to the treatment. Usually patients need to wait a year after their last chemo session before trying to conceive.  After Dr. Hager’s blessing and assurance, she did just that.

So Stacy continued her treatments and has been cancer free since January 2015. She continues to follow up with Dr. Hager every four months.

“Dr. Hager, as well as the entire team at cCARE, were so great and personal,” says Stacy. “I really felt like my care was individualized to me.”