July 14, 2015 | by City of Hope
Tina Wang was diagnosed with Stage 4 diffuse large b cell lymphoma at age 22.
She first sought treatment at her local hospital, undergoing two cycles of treatment. When the treatment failed to eradicate her cancer, she came to City of Hope.
Here, Wang underwent an autologous stem cell transplant and participated in a CAR T cell therapy clinical trial. Now Wang is back in college studying nutrition and, this month, she celebrates one year of being in remission.
Here she answers questions about her diagnosis and her treatment experience at City of Hope.
What went through your mind when you were diagnosed?
At first, I was just shocked. I didn't know what to do, what was going to happen. I don’t have a family history of any type of cancer, so at first I questioned if the doctor had misdiagnosed me. After a few days, I told myself that my only task was to follow all the necessary treatments. Other things could wait.
What led to your diagnosis … were you feeling ill?
I had been feeling short of breath, coughing, unable to lie down for three months, and the symptoms didn't seem to be going away. I went to a pulmonary doctor who told me that I might have TB, so I was put on TB medication.
One month later I started coughing up blood. That's when I went to the emergency room and had an esophagogastroscopy with a biopsy. That's when they discovered that it was lymphoma.
What was your experience at City of Hope?
Everyone was very welcoming and respectful of my thoughts. During my transplant, the medications were very uncomfortable, but the staff was great; always entering my room with a smile and responding to my requests quickly. I really appreciated the group meetings every day. They made the time go by faster, distracted me from pain and allowed me to meet other patients. The activities were interesting, and everyone was always laughing. Other than the IV stands, it did not seem that I was in the hospital.
Tell us about your doctor, Leslie Popplewell – how she helped you. What was your relationship?
Dr. Popplewell always followed up with my labs and exams. Sometime the results were not out by the time I saw her, but she would call me afterward to let me know if anything was of concern. She always took the time to listen to me. I often asked her about my health condition and travel plans, and she always provided support, then gave me tips.
I remembered that I went to Big Bear Lake one month after my remission and became very uncomfortable, with shortness of breath and dizziness. I was really scared that my lymphoma had come back so I let Dr. Popplewell know. She listened and explained to me that it was just probably because my body was not able to adapt to the high altitude, but referred me to a pulmonary doctor for a check-up just in case. The way Dr. Popplewell talked to me let me feel that the future is positive, that there is hope for a full recovery, which helped me to maintain a good attitude during treatment.
At what point could you tell you were improving?
Before I started treatment, I was unable to lie down due to coughing. So the first time I was able to lie flat on my bed after four months, it was amazing – and I slept through the night. During my treatment, I adopted regular exercise whenever my condition allowed me to, in order to maintain muscle strength. At first I could only walk five minutes, then I had to rest; as time passed by, the duration increased to 10, 20, 30 minutes, and even on an inclined road. Now I can walk one hour straight without problem. As the walking duration increased, I could sense that my health condition and energy level were much improved.
What do you want to do now and in the future?
I hope to travel and try different foods. There are too many cultures around the world that I want to explore. It is so interesting to learn about the histories and myths about different cultures. I would want to see the scenes with my own eyes and taste the foods with my own mouth rather than from TV programs.
How do you plan to celebrate one year of remission?
I think that I need a vacation with my family. For the one year of my intense treatment and the second year of recovery, my family worked harder than me to keep me healthy. During the two years, home, work and hospital were the only places we went. With my one year of remission, it's time for us to go someplace different to release all the stress and just have fun.
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