How Her ‘Cancer Family’ Helped One Young Adult Through Treatment

By Christina Dixon

Cancer turned my world upside-down overnight. I had just graduated from college, moved to Boston after finishing undergrad at Washington and Lee in Virginia, and started my dream job on an interest rate derivatives sales desk.  Suddenly, instead of working, spending time with my friends, and playing sports, my life was filled with PET scans, chemotherapy, and pain management to treat stage IVB Hodgkin lymphoma. I was just 22 and facing my mortality in a very real way. From the very beginning, I decided I wanted as much good as possible to come from cancer. I did not want to pretend my circumstances weren’t challenging, and instead focused on creating positive moments in the midst of my difficulties.

Christina and her nurse, Kerry
Christina and her infusion nurse, Kerry

I quickly realized that building relationships with my care team could be one of the positives of my cancer experience. I have an amazing group of people at Dana-Farber who I now cherish as coaches and advisers.  I look up to them, and five years after the diagnosis, I still love learning from them during our visits.

When I was first diagnosed, I met with David Fisher, MD, on a Tuesday afternoon and began chemotherapy the following day, which didn’t give me much time to process what was happening. I expected the treatment area to be a very sterile environment when I walked in on that Wednesday morning. To my surprise, the infusion room wasn’t the unwelcoming environment I had always associated with hospitals. Instead, I immediately felt like I had a “cancer family.”

My infusion nurse, Kerry Beliveau, greeted me with a huge smile on her face and filled me in on what I would do during chemotherapy. Kerry also introduced me to the Young Adult Program at Dana-Farber. Dr. Fisher stopped by shortly thereafter to check on me, and my nurse practitioner, Michele Walsh, also spent time getting to know me. I had three coaches who believed in me and saw me as not just a patient, but as a whole person. I felt loved and secure. I was scared about the cancer, but the rest of the world seemed to melt away. I knew I was exactly where I needed to be.

Six months later, I was fortunate to move from active treatment to surveillance. For the first time since diagnosis, I was able to be more independent and attend appointments on my own. I couldn’t have been more thankful to have such strong relationships with each person on my care team. At that point, I had also become friends with nutritionists, social workers, volunteers, and even the dining pavilion staff. While I walked into Dana-Farber alone, I had confidence that once inside, I would be surrounded by my cancer family.

Hear more from Christina in the video below: