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Anna Brower, Diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease, 2000

Anna Brower, Diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease, 2000

How old were you when you were first diagnosed?

It was the spring of sixth grade, and I had just turned 12. I had a case of bronchitis that just wouldn't go away. After a chest X-ray and a biopsy,my pediatrician diagnosed stage four Hodgkin's lymphoma. The whole thing happened so fast -- only three days from the X-ray to the diagnosis.

As a 12-year old, what did cancer mean to you?

I was pretty terrified. It was the first time I'd ever seen both my parents cry at the same time. After the diagnosis,we met with my oncologist at Michigan. I don't remember much of what she told me about what was ahead, except she said I had a pretty good chance. The disease has about a 70% survival rate. That's all I really remember -- it was still feeling surreal.

What was your treatment like?

I was put on an experimental protocol. The combination of drugs had been tested with adults, and the individual drugs had been tested on children, but I was only the seventh or eighth kid to be put on the study. I had four months of really rigorous chemotherapy -- three-week cycles of a few days in the hospital and a day as an outpatient, followed by a week to recover and start again. I responded really well to the protocol, and my next round of treatment, three four-week cycles, wasn't as intense.

During treatment, I had pretty much every side effect in the book. My hair fell out, of course, and I lost lots of weight and was nauseous. I developed mouth sores that were so bad I had to be admitted to the hospital for them. The whole thing was pretty exhausting and painful.

All of that in sixth grade! How did cancer impact your school life?

I missed the majority of sixth and seventh grades, although I had a tutor and didn't fall behind academically. I was lucky to have really supportive friends. My school friends visited and made cards in class, and family friends made meals for us to help because my parents had to spend so much time with me at the hospital. I'm so grateful to everyone who supported us during that time.

Looking back, the social part was the toughest. I don't think I really noticed it until after it was over -- when I went back to school. You learn a lot socially at that age, and I was so detached. I felt different. The things that mattered so much before -- boys, hair, movies -- just weren't as important after cancer. Getting back into the world of my peers was a real adjustment.

How are you doing now?

Great. At first I went back for tests every month, then every six months. Now, I have a yearly chest X-ray and that's it. But even though it's over, it's not history -- it's a huge part of what has shaped me. Now, I'm a senior and applying to colleges. I hope to eventually be a fashion editor -- so that lack of interest in clothes and hair is over!

What would you like to tell kids and parents facing a diagnosis like yours?

Stay strong and laugh. That helps most of all.

How would you define a "survivor"?

It's just like they say, the minute you're diagnosed, you become a survivor.

Anna was recently named the Ann Arbor Honored Hero for the 2005 Light the Night walk sponsored by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Michigan.

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