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Standing up for her health: On a quest for answers, teen battles cancer and emerges victorious

Posted 9/23/2015 by UHBlog

Rachel EglerRachel Egler, MD, Director, Outpatient Services, Angie Fowler Adolescent & Young Adult Cancer Institute at UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital Associate Professor, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

When Danielle Steele was 15 years old, she felt that something was not right. “I was really tired all the time,” she says. “I had night sweats, pain and enlarged lymph nodes in my neck, groin and armpits.” She quickly shed 20 pounds from her already thin frame. “I knew it was not normal, but I didn’t know what was going on,” says Danielle, now 18.

At first, she visited her regular pediatrician who performed an X-ray. He found lesions in her lungs that seemed to be pneumonia and treated her for the condition. When Danielle still felt ill after several months of treatment, she and her mom looked to the experts within the UH Rainbow Care Network for a second opinion.

Seeking a diagnosis

That was where Danielle met Rachel Egler, MD, pediatric cancer specialist and Director of Outpatient Services at the Angie Fowler Adolescent & Young Adult Cancer Institute at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. “We were the right people for her to come to,” Dr. Egler says. “When she left my office, I was convinced that something was very wrong, but I did not know what it was.” Dr. Egler coordinated with other hospital specialists, including those from infectious disease and pulmonology, to try to find answers for Danielle.

After seeing the extent of her disease on scans of her neck and torso, Dr. Egler decided to remove and biopsy the largest lymph node, about the size of a golf ball, located in Danielle’s neck. The results showed that Danielle had stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The disease starts in lymph nodes, which are part of the immune system. In Danielle’s case, the cancer had infiltrated her lungs, bone marrow and bones. “I was shocked,” Danielle says.

For the next five-and-a-half months, Danielle received chemotherapy infusions each week. Fortunately, the treatment worked. A positron emission tomography (PET) scan last November showed that she no longer had any signs of cancer in her body.

Danielle returns to Angie’s Institute every three months for scans to make sure she is cancer-free. In addition, her symptoms have disappeared, her appetite is back and she has gained 20 healthy pounds. “For the first time in years, I feel like a normal teenager again,” she says. She is now enrolled at Lorain County Community College and is working toward a degree in digital forensics.

Being her own health advocate

Danielle Steele

Dr. Egler applauds Danielle for being vigilant about her health. “Unfortunately, there are many teenagers who do not want to tell anyone when they feel there is something wrong, but she kept pushing until she got answers,” Dr. Egler says. “It is so important to seek care early on.” Conditions are easiest to treat and have a greater chance of a cure if they are detected in their earliest stages.

“I always make sure that if something does not seem right, I get it checked out right away,” Danielle says. “I hope other kids will do the same because even if you don’t think it’s bad, it is still important to find out what is happening with your health.”

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5 common signs of cancer

Cancers in teens and young adults are often found later than with other age groups, as the early signs frequently go unnoticed or get shrugged off as part of an active lifestyle. Here are the most common early symptoms of various cancers:

1. Fatigue. Extreme tiredness that does not go away with rest.

2. Fever. Many kinds of cancer can cause fever, especially if it has spread from where it began or affects the immune system.

3. Pain. Various cancers can cause pain in different areas of the body.

4. Skin changes. These can include reddening or yellowing of the skin or a mole that changes shape or color.

5. Unexplained weight loss. Losing more than 10 pounds in a short time may be the first sign of many cancers. Young people with these or any other unusual symptoms that do not go away or get worse should see a doctor.

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