Amanda's Hodgkin's Story

Amanda is an honor-roll student whose favorite subject is math, but she's facing another kind of problem: Hodgkin's disease.

Hodgkin's disease (often called Hodgkin disease) is a form of lymphoma (say: lim-foh-mah) — a cancer that starts in the lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are masses of tissue that control the flow of lymph, a fluid containing white blood cells that is responsible for fighting infections in the body.

Her Parents Noticed a Swollen Neck

She was diagnosed when she was 11. It all started when Amanda's parents noticed that her neck was swollen. She didn't feel any pain. Her family doctor first thought an infection could have caused her swollen lymph nodes and sent her to a children's hospital for further investigation. There, Amanda had an X-ray and a CT scan of her neck, which showed a lump next to her windpipe that was in danger of blocking her airway. That lump was a tumor, so things started to move fast.

Amanda was immediately scheduled for a biopsy (say: by-op-see), a surgical procedure to remove and examine tissue from her tumor. The next thing she knew, she and her parents were meeting with an oncologist (say: on-kah-luh-jist), a doctor who works with cancer patients.

The oncologist explained that Amanda had cancer. Amanda was brave when she heard the news. "The doctor was great about telling me what the disease was and what to expect," she says. "The only thing that really got to me was when she said I'd lose my hair."

Chemotherapy and Hair Loss

Sure enough, after the second round of chemotherapy (treatment to kill the cancer cells), Amanda's shoulder-length, honey-blonde hair began to fall out a bit at a time. When she finally gave in and had it shaved off, she saved it in a bag. Amanda still misses her hair, but has begun collecting hats to coordinate with her colorful wardrobe. Her favorite one is navy blue.

Because she has very little hair, Amanda notices that strangers often stare at her. But her friends are used to her new look. They have been loyal, she says, and have learned to find ways to still hang out together despite her cancer.

"I still play with my friends," she says, "but we have to be more careful now because of the risk of infection. And we mostly play at my house."

Stuff Amanda Can't Do

While she's being treated, Amanda can't go to some of her favorite places or do some of her favorite things. She can't go the mall or go to her tap and jazz dancing lessons. She can't swim because she has a central chemotherapy line, which was placed surgically in her chest to help with treatments. She's also not allowed to lie in the sun.

For Amanda, the hardest part about having Hodgkin's disease is not being able to be as social as she would like to be. Because she might get sick from the other kids, Amanda can't attend school. Instead, she's tutored privately at home.

But after her treatment, she's hoping to return to her busy schedule of cheerleading, jazz, and tap, as well as student council and drama club at her middle school — as long as her recovery continues to progress.

Looking Ahead

Right now, she's making the most of her time at home, where she lives with her parents; older brother, Brian; older sister, Sammie; 12-year-old German shepherd, Poochie; and her puppy, Chemo. Her dream is to travel to Africa someday, where she wants to photograph wild animals. She's optimistic about the future and looks forward to feeling better.

Meanwhile, Amanda says it's important to let others know that she's the same person she's always been. "After all," she says, "just because you lose something doesn't mean you lose everything."

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 2010

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