A new perspective: Hodgkin lymphoma changed her body and her mind

Emily Breclaw took some time off during her cancer treatment but returned to swimming with the Liverpool Jets during her sound round of treatment. (PHOTO BY SUSAN KAHN)

Emily Breclaw took some time off during her cancer treatment but returned to swimming with the Liverpool Jets during her sound round of treatment. (PHOTO BY SUSAN KAHN)

BY AMBER SMITH

Emily Breclaw underwent four rounds of chemotherapy, each lasting a couple week. She deal with three day of nausea, and soon after that subsided, and soon after that subsided, she had whole-body muscle aches with which to content, but she said “I felt better going through chemo than I did for the eight months before.”

Breclaw, 16, a sophomore at East Syracuse Minoa High School and a competitive swimmer, was sick for almost a year. She would get tired. She had low-grade fevers every night for five months, and night sweats. She would get out of breath. A blood test revealed anemia; iron supplements did not help. Breclaw struggled to concentrate and sometimes fell asleep in class.

Breclaw says that as a cancer survivor, she has a new perspective on what's important in life. (PHOTO BY SUSAN KAHN)

Breclaw says that as a cancer survivor, she has a new perspective on what’s important in life. (PHOTO BY SUSAN KAHN)

“I would have to do my homework standing up because otherwise I would fall asleep,” she recalled.

Over the summer, she developed stomachaches and pain in her ribs. She also dealt with itchiness, and her trouble breathing got worse. Her family doctor ordered a chest X-ray and located a mass the size of an orange. He sent Breclaw to Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital, where pediatric oncologist Gloria Kennedy, MD, began caring for her.

She was admitted to the hospital that Friday, Oct. 24. She had a biopsy the next day.

When Breclaw learned she had cancer, she was not surprised. “I kind of knew it was coming,” she said. “You know how some people say they kind of knew? Something in me just knew.”

The next week was full of medical appointments to prepare Breclaw and her parents for the chemotherapy that began Nov. 4. She was found to have Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer that begins in the white blood cells. The American Cancer Society says Hodgkin lymphoma accounts for about 3 percent of childhood cancers.

Breclaw missed a lot of school and a lot of swimming. She returned to classes in January, having lost her hair during treatment. “I went back with a hat, and people were OK with it. They didn’t care at all that I didn’t have any hair,” she said. “A few weeks after that, I started getting a little hair. I didn’t wear a hat, and everybody was OK with that, too.”

She returned to school with a more mature way of thinking. Before cancer, she was shy, prone to worry what people thought of her and quick to complain about trivial matters.

Now, as a cancer survivor, Breclaw has confidence. Little things that used to concern her are unimportant. And, she has a perspective that causes her to think before complaining. “I stop and think about the struggles I endured and the struggles that some children are still enduring.”

SymptomsLayout 1

An enlarged lymph node is the most common symptom of Hodgkin lymphoma, often appearing as a lump or bump on the side of the neck, in the armpit or groin. Other symptoms people may experience include fevers that come and go, drenching night sweats, unexplained weight loss, exhaustion, itchiness and loss of appetite. (Source: American Cancer Society)

This article appears in the summer 2015 issue of Cancer Care magazine, which features Breclaw on its cover.

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