From lymphoma patient to lymphoma advocate

September 5, 2018 | by Samantha Bonar

Cutaneous T cell lymphoma | City of Hope Aza Khachikyan (left), with son Nicholas and husband Arthur Yagubyan
With a fussy 5-month-old, Aza Khachikyan, 27, thought she was struggling with normal new-mom fatigue.
But returning home from taking her son to his first pumpkin patch last October, she received a life-changing phone call: Her symptoms pointed to something much more serious, Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“I had the hardest time accepting it for myself, and even a harder time thinking of how we would have to break the news to our family and friends,” she recalled. “I never had anybody close to me that had cancer, so I really didn’t know what the steps were, or how hard it was or how bad it was. Everything was out of the blue and a surprise to me.”
What followed were “endless tears, sleepless nights, time away from my baby, fatigue, nausea, hair loss.” But things were only going to get worse. Just two weeks after finishing six weeks of grueling chemotherapy treatment, Khachikyan relapsed in May. At that point, she was referred to City of Hope for a bone marrow transplant.
“You think it’s over, and then you get the news it’s not, and you have to start all over again and it’s going to be more intense treatment. I hit rock bottom,” she said. And then, when we went to City of Hope, they said, ‘OK, we’re going to do this, this and this, but if this doesn’t work there’s always Plan B.’ They always encouraged you that there was always something else that could be done. I had never experienced that before with any other doctor or hospital.”
At City of Hope, Khachikyan was treated by Firoozeh Sahebi, M.D., a blood cancers expert within the Toni Stephenson Lymphoma Center, a leading-edge research and treatment facility dedicated to delivering lifesaving advances to lymphoma patients.
It was while preparing for her bone marrow transplant at City of Hope that Khachikyan decided to start an online fundraiser to raise money for cancer research. “While attending classes for the bone marrow transplant at City of Hope, I had met with so many amazing nurses and doctors. They were explaining to me the procedures that would take place, and I then understood how lucky I was to be able to get this procedure done,” she said. “Back in the day, when young people my age were diagnosed with lymphoma, they all sadly ended up dying. Today, lymphoma is highly curable, and has a survival rate of 80 percent to 90 percent. Without all the research that has been done up to now, there is no way I would be sitting here right now.”
Becoming a cancer patient also raised her awareness of the need for blood, platelet and bone marrow donations. “I personally never knew about any of this until being diagnosed,” she said. “About 10,000 patients are in need to find a [bone marrow] match and only half will ever find their match. You can be someone’s cure!”
Khachikyan said she decided to share her story to raise not just funding, but awareness, and to “provide some kind of hope for others. Too many people are suffering or dying from some type cancer: a disease that does not discriminate based on age, race or gender,” she said.  After setting a goal of raising $4,000, so far her online fundraiser has raised $14,401 from 40 donors, and more than 100 family members and friends have signed up to donate platelets and blood. Some have signed up for the bone marrow registry as well.
Now recovering from her successful bone marrow transplant, Khachikyan has a new perspective on life. “Everybody focuses on work, family, friends, but going through this you realize that all that matters is having good health so that you are able to be with your family, so that you are able to raise your kids. I don’t worry about the small stuff anymore. I don’t worry about material things. All I care about is getting healthy so I can go back to raising my son.”
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Learn more about lymphoma and our program. If you are looking for a second opinion about your diagnosis or consultation about your treatment, request an appointment online or contact us at 800-826-4673. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.
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