ELYSE

Jun 22, 2013

For the past five and a half months 20 year old Elyse has been undergoing chemotherapy for Hodgkin's Lymphoma. She was diagnosed in December 2012, but had unknowingly had it for almost two years.
 
A very unusual symptom started to appear at the age of 17. “I would get so itchy that without even knowing it I would end up scratching my skin open leaving small marks everywhere,” says Elyse. “I now have quite a few scars on my arms, legs, stomach, chest, and back - literally every inch of my body you could imagine.”
Lymphoma can cause a variety of symptoms - night sweats, weight loss or gain, excessive tiredness, fevers, and itching. The itching is caused when the immune system unnecessarily releases histamines. The histamines can be activated by a variety of things - hot or cold water, an uncomfortable fabric, heat, general anxiety, a regular itch, or dry skin. Elyse had visited a variety of doctors in regards to her itching for nearly two years leading up to the actual diagnosis. It was written off as anxiety, atopic dermatitis, or blamed on hard water from her shower at home.

Elyse also found a painless lump on the right side of her neck. It would change in size over the course of time. “At one point I thought it was gone, but a few months later it was bigger than it had ever been,” she says.
 
Not only was Elyse dealing with the stress of her symptoms, but also with the stresses of being a college freshman at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City. Elyse said,
"I didn't feel normal and it impeded me being able to function normally away at college and really put me behind in my classes. Most days, it was easier to lay in bed than deal with the stress or anxiety of getting up and getting dressed."
 
Elyse finally visited the physician located in her dorm building. The doctor gave her a referral to a radiologist to have an ultrasound done on the lump on her neck. She admits not following up as soon as she should have so once back in her home state of Pennsylvania she was persuaded by her mom to get it looked at. Elyse and her mom then took the ultrasound to an endocrinologist, which yielded no results. Without any answers to their questions, Elyse then went to see her family doctor, Dr. Bendit, who urged that she have a CT scan immediately. This time Elyse acted and had the scan within a few days. She was on a date with her then-boyfriend when she got the results. The doctor explained her symptoms could be something serious -  like Lymphoma and that she needed to schedule an appointment with the hematology/oncology center at the St Luke's Cancer center. "That freaked me out. I had no words," explained Elyse.
 

Elyse having chemotherapy drugs
administered to her through her port.
Within the next day or two, Elyse had an appointment scheduled with Dr. Proothi, an oncologist. He examined the lump on her neck and raised an eyebrow when Elyse mentioned the itching. Elyse was then scheduled for a full body CT scan. Next was a required PET scan. A PET scan uses radioactive dyes to highlight cells that are rapidly dividing (rapidly dividing cells are a sign of cancer). The PET scan indicated that, indeed, there were spots that could be cancer in her neck and chest. The tests did not stop after the PET scan. Elyse then had to have an incisional biopsy to take a small piece of the lymph nodes in order for it to be tested for the presence of cancer. Due to the size and positioning of these inflamed nodes, Elyse had to be administered general anesthesia for the procedure (it is normally done under local anesthesia while the patient is in more a of twilight sleep rather than being fully put under).  Elyse was officially diagnosed with Stage 2 B-Cell Indolent Hodgkin's Lymphoma. "B-cell means that there are present symptoms and indolent means slow-growing," Elyse explains.

Elyse currently receives chemotherapy treatments every other week on Tuesdays and gets a Neulasta injection to bring up her white blood cell count and prevent infections. She also takes Claritin on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays to prevent achiness from the shot. "Lately, the days I feel the worst emotionally are the day or two before I go in for chemo," says Elyse. "I get grumpy and moody. I'm sensitive and a little depressed because I know that the next day I have to go somewhere and pretty much let them put poison in my body."
 
Shortly after starting chemo Elyse decided to shave her head and get a wig. She said, "I didn't want people to see me look sick." Elyse was provided with a free wig from an organization called Friends Are By Your Side (friendsarebyyourside.com). Friends Are By Your Side is an organization run out of a hair salon by celebrity hair stylist Martino  Cartier. The organization raises money to get wigs to women undergoing chemo treatments. "It provides them with a safe, supportive environment for hair removal to feel in control and feel beautiful," said Elyse. "They did just that for me. I have a beautiful wig, which I've named Patricia, and I'm learning to feel confident with and without it." ).
 
Not only was the wig a confidence booster for Elyse, but she has always looked to her family and friends for support. It is Elyse's best friend, Kayla, who has been her rock and motivator. A little more than halfway through chemo, Elyse was inspired by Kayla to start blogging, eating clean, and working out four to six times a week. She chronicles her journey with her blog, See Ya at Chemo  - seeyaatchemo.wordpress.com. On her blog she shares not only her journey, but also healthy recipes and her key workouts.  Due to chemo, Elyse can only workout every other week. "That doesn't stop me from getting a butt-kicking work out at the gym when I can," she says. She has already lost 15 pounds, and plans to lose 20 to 25 more. Elyse describes Kayla as a soft pillow to fall back on, but a firm reminder to get back up and push hard. "I couldn't have gone through this process if it weren't for my best friend Kayla. She was always there, and especially in recent months has been hugely supportive and motivating," Elyse says. "I'm on the road to living a much happier and healthier life now."
Elyse and Kayla working hard!

As for her future, Elyse has accepted that she may not finish college in four years. After leaving Marymount Manhattan College to move home for treatments she attended Penn State Lehigh Valley - a local Penn State campus. At Penn State Lehigh Valley, Elyse took general education requirements and applied for the BFA in lighting design program at Penn State's main campus in State College, PA. She was denied acceptance due to the fact that she would be behind the rest of the transfers her age. As a result, Elyse currently attends Northampton Community College where she is pursuing her Associates degree in theatre. She then plans to reapply for the program at Penn State and would eventually like to live in Manhattan again. The advice Elyse gives to others? - "Always stay positive, stay motivated, and know that you deserve nothing less than to give yourself the best - no matter what."
 
To learn more about Elyse and her story please visit www.seeyaatchemo.wordpress.com.
 
 If you would like your story featured on A Cute Angle please e-mail BloggerAsh703@gmail.com.
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Elyse at a climbing gym on her 20th birthday!



Elyse and her best friend Kayla


To learn more about Hodgkin's Lymphoma and other blood cancers or to make a donation towards research and education please visit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's website - www.lls.org.












 

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