Mellissa’s path wasn’t easy, but expert care and a positive attitude led her to a cure.
For a period of seven months, Mellissa’s skin itched uncontrollably and she didn’t know why. Bumps and sores spread across her stomach, stretching toward her back and down her limbs, gradually turning into open wounds that covered most of her body. A long and frustrating search for answers left her bouncing from doctor to doctor as her condition became increasingly dire.
When she started to experience neck pain in addition to the itching sores, a physician identified swollen lymph nodes and ordered a blood test. When the results came in, Mellissa received devastating news.
“The doctor told me that I had cancer,” she recalls. “He said that I needed to come into his office to set up a treatment plan. He recommended that I see Dr. Joel Lamon.”
Making the best of it, when “it” is lymphoma
Mellissa’s official diagnosis was Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a rare and serious cancer affecting white blood cells called lymphocytes. The lymphatic system is part of the body’s circulatory system, and it plays an important role in supporting the immune system. Family history of the disease is a significant risk factor.
“When I was 12, my sister got lymphoma,” Melissa explains. “I saw all the pain and torture she went through. When I was diagnosed I was scared. I was scared to death. The first thing on your mind is that you’re going to die.”
During her first visit with Dr. Lamon, he explained that chemotherapy would provide the best chance for a complete cure. As she began treatment, Mellissa endured unpleasant side effects, but the chemo almost immediately alleviated her itching. Even in the midst of these trying circumstances, she made the conscious choice to stay optimistic and upbeat.
“Each time I went to get chemo I’d go with my best friend, and we’d sit and play cards and laugh,” she recalls. “I made good friends with my nurse, Nadya. Sometimes we’d have ice cream parties. Even though I was sick as heck, we just stayed positive the whole way through. And during every treatment Dr. Lamon would come in and ask me how I was doing.”
Relapse and a new course of action
Unfortunately, five months after the conclusion of chemotherapy treatment, tests revealed that the lymphoma was back in full force. At that point, Dr. Lamon recommended a stem cell transplant. Stem cells are immature cells that will later turn into different types of blood cells, and they are highly concentrated in the bone marrow.
Mellissa received something called an autologous bone marrow transplant at the nearby University of California, San Diego hospital. Her stem cells were harvested and cryogenically preserved. She then underwent four straight days of intensive chemotherapy before the stem cells were reintroduced into her bone marrow.
“I was very weak and super tired once the bone marrow was reintroduced,” she explains. “It was difficult to walk, even. I started working really hard to do the things they were asking me to do. When I got home I had to stay inside for three months because of my weak immune system. In the end, though, it was so worth it.”
Hope on the horizon
After a long and difficult recovery, Mellissa began a long road toward health and well-being. Not long after she was cleared to leave her house, she went on a vacation to Big Bear.
“I was watching my friends ride mountain bikes,” she remembers. “Right then I said, ‘My goal is to come back here and ride a bike down this mountain.’”
During treatment, Mellissa lost 80 pounds, but gained the weight back during recovery. On a follow-up visit with Dr. Lamon, she got the okay to pursue gastric band surgery for weight loss. Following the surgery, she began hiking and incorporating fitness and healthy eating into her daily lifestyle. She also continued to follow up with Dr. Lamon each year to make sure there were no signs of lymphoma.
“Every time I’d go in and see Dr. Lamon, he’d give me the biggest hug,” she says. “We’d talk about everything I’d done in the last year. He’d remind me of how much progress I’d made on my journey.”
Remission and rejoicing
Mellissa’s lymphoma has been gone for seven years now – long enough that she no longer has to schedule an annual visit with Dr. Lamon. She vividly recalls her final visit for annual testing.
“I had a moment in the parking lot where I cried because I was so afraid to go in,” she recalls. “I called a couple of close friends and they gave me words of encouragement. Then I heard the sweet words from Dr. Lamon – my test results were good and I’d made it to remission. I didn’t have to come back for testing anymore. He smiled and hugged me. I told him I’d take him up on the offer to not come back, but I would miss him.”
Today, Mellissa is fully convinced that her positivity fueled her recovery.
“The more positive you stay, the better the effects,” she says. “I never gave up hope, I faced my challenges head on, and I believed every single day that I was going to get better.”