Staff StoryMar | 26 | 2019
The Cancer Center’s Story Project is an effort to capture stories from our community of patients, friends, family, clinicians, and staff who have been affected by cancer in some way. This is Laura's Story.
- Laura Melancon started as a patient here at the age of 23. Now, years later, Laura has come back to the Cancer Center to work as a Bone Marrow Transplant Coordinator. She works with the same doctor who treated her and provides a unique experience to the patients she sees.
- "I push myself because I don’t want to be that person who’s just going to fold."
“In 2002, I was in college. I was studying for a business degree and I didn’t have any symptoms. But around graduation time, in May, I started to have this heaviness in my chest, and a weakness in my arm. My family has heart problems, so even though I was 23 years old, I immediately thought it was that. I went to my doctor and they did an EKG and a chest X-Ray. And that was it, the doctor said that my heart was fine. Then over the summer I started to get more and more symptoms. I was short of breath, but I worked out about five days a week at the gym, and I remember being on the treadmill and getting super dizzy. I developed a cough. It sounded like I was a smoker, but I wasn’t a smoker. I kept going back to my doctor and he told me it was asthma and prescribed me an inhaler."
“I wasn't treated very well, and I think it was because I was so young. They actually misread the chest X-Ray as normal. There was an eight centimeter tumor next to my heart. By the time it was found, it was 22 centimeters. I was rushed into treatment. After testing, they found out that I had primary mediastinal diffuse large b cell lymphoma, which I guess is common in younger women. It's very similar to Hodgkin's Lymphoma in the way it can be treated, as far as the cure rate and all."
“The surgeon who operated on my tumor said he was horrified, he said he didn’t think I was going to make it off the table. When I woke up, that’s when I found out it was cancer. I was actually happy at that point because I had a real diagnosis. Before that, I was reading on the internet, trying to diagnose myself. I had a few treatments locally through a very good doctor, and then I decided to come here because I didn't feel comfortable staying local."
“Everything started to go really well, I could sleep lying down again. I also legitimately heard my lung pop back up after learning it was collapsed under the weight of the tumor. And all of a sudden the chest lump in my neck was going down, so I knew that what I was taking was working. My scans started to look good too, but then I found out that they needed to radiate out further because I had such an extensive disease. They ended up having to put my left breast in the radiation field, and put me at risk for breast cancer. I’m a 24 year old girl, but I just wanted them to cure me."
“Everything looked good, and then I got a call from my doctor and they said although the main tumor was gone, a few others popped up on my left lung and they were growing pretty fast. I needed more chemotherapy, and they told me I needed to be put on the transplant list. I didn’t understand why it couldn’t be taken care of with just chemo. Dr. Steven McAfee was my doctor, along with Dr. Dey and Dr. Spitzer. I work with Dr. McAfee now and he was the one who told me my cure rate went down from 70% to 40%. To someone in their 20’s who thinks they’re invincible, those are scary odds."
“I always try to find humor in everything. Even though it stinks, it’s still a part of my life that I went through and I try to make the best of it. And luckily, the chemo worked, and I was able to go through with my transplant. I had an autologous bone marrow transplant using my own cells. I ended up failing collection the first time, and a few times after that too. They could only get a small amount. Working as a Bone Marrow Transplant Coordinator now, I know that there are only a small amount of people who fail collection. They had to go in and harvest bone marrow surgically. They admitted me October 13th; and on October 21st, 2003, I got myself back. I consider that my cure time. It’s been 15 years. After two years it's pretty much not coming back, but after five years, it’s pretty standard that it’s not coming back."
“There's always that feeling that once you stop treatment you’re just waiting for the bottom to fall out, which is scary, and you try to be positive. Right now I work directly with patients going through autologous and allogeneic transplants for lymphoma. I work with my people. They are going through exactly what I went through, 15 years prior. I'm open to talking to them about it. I’m honest with these patients and I've had many patients thank me for actually sharing my experience."“It's given me a special view because I've also been the patient, so I understand what these people are actually, truly going through. I think a lot of people have been happy to hear from me because they're thinking “she's alive, she has twins, she’s an avid skier.” I did a Spartan Sprint a few years ago up Killington Mountain with one working lung. My left lung collapsed permanently after the birth of my kids due to scar tissue from radiation. I've had this going on for quite a long time and my body has fully adapted. I push myself too, because I didn’t want to be that person that's just going to fold."
“I tell people not to be ashamed if you need to talk to somebody. Sometimes it takes awhile for the mind to catch up with the body. Sometimes you might not be the same. It's a scar, it’s a battle wound. You went through a war and came out of it. I think the only thing that heals most, coming as a long-term survivor, is time. Time away from this instance that you went through to where you are now.”
I push myself because I don’t want to be that person who’s just going to fold.
This interview was conducted in March of 2018 and has been edited for clarity.
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