My Name Is CC, and I Am a Cancer Survivor

“Hello, my name is CC, and I am a cancer survivor.”

I never thought that those words would sit together in the same sentence, let alone with a great deal of comfort and elbow room. I never thought that the word “cancer” would be applied to me at all. And I never thought that I would carry the words with me still, after it was all over. You see, I was hoping I would be able to tuck cancer away, someplace small and sacred, and be able to forget that I was ever that sick, forget that I ever did all that chemo, and forget that my life was forever changed.

But that’s not what happened. That’s not the story.

I was young. I was active. I was social. I was ambitious in my career and excited about the future. I was a “healthy” and “normal” 29-year-old when I was diagnosed with stage IV Hodgkin lymphoma in the sleeting February of 2016. After getting totally emotionally sidelined by the diagnosis, I completed six rounds (12 infusions total) of ABVD chemotherapy. That’s a total of 36 hours in the infusion center’s bustling waiting room, 72 hours in the chemo chair, watching 259,200 drips trickle down from the chemo bag into the big blue vein in my arm. That’s 12 lightly toasted bagels from the café downstairs, an infinite number of hand holds and arm rubs from my mother, and countless times the floor dropped out from beneath me to swirl with the walls.

WebsterSisters
With my sister, Ashley, in July 2016, before my final treatment.

When I tumbled out the other side into remission that sweaty August, I tried to pick up my life and career where I had left it, but it just wasn’t the same. Something was missing. It was like my doctor had sent me home with a stick shift when I only knew how to drive an automatic. Everything I had built for myself had seemed to disappear, sinking between my fingers. All of my dreams and my excitement for the future fell in a heap on the floor, having lost their glitter and gleam. I had to rebuild by finding and following my sense of joy, passion, peace and purpose.

My observations and perspectives surrounding my experience with cancer may ring true to anyone who has sat in that chemo chair, or who has shown up to a cocktail party with a fresh buzz cut. But more than a cancer story, my story is one of facing challenge and surviving. It is a story about the power of the physical body and the emotional self. It is a story about love. And most of all, it is story of hope, with a little bit of humor.

I want to tell my story in this blog post and in the next ones to come, with this community specifically, because this is where I came for help, too. Stay tuned. I can’t wait to share my story with you.


CCWebster_PhotoCC Webster is a recent survivor, patient of Weill Cornell Medicine/NewYork-Presbyterian (WCM/NYP), and author of So That Happened, a memoir that offers a candid reflection on her experience with cancer as a young adult. Diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma at the age of 29, CC completed treatment under Dr. John Leonard and his team at WCM/NYP’s Lymphoma Program. Now in remission, she is sharing her story, perspective, and insights in hopes of raising awareness of the disease and helping others through the battle – always with a little bit of humor. Her book is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and through her site and publishing platform Webster Works. CC lives with her husband, Matt, in New York City.

Dr. John Leonard Awarded for Outstanding Patient Care

IMG_6169The Lymphoma Program’s Dr. John Leonard was granted the prestigious 2017 Miriam G. Wallach Award for Excellence in Humanistic Medical Care at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital’s Physician of the Year event, as presented by the Department of Nursing. The award honors a physician who exemplifies altruistic and humanistic qualities and displays exceptional dedication to providing outstanding, compassionate patient-centered care.

Dr. Cam Patterson, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medicine, helped to introduce Dr. Leonard and present the award. He noted that Dr. Leonard is widely acknowledged by his colleagues both locally and nationally for his stature in the field of lymphoma research and care, especially known for his astuteness in taking on challenging cases, such as treating pregnant women with lymphoma. He is also regarded as a great partner to his nursing colleagues.

“Receiving an award that is reflective of the feelings of the nursing staff is about as good as it gets,” said Dr. Leonard.

In his acceptance remarks, Dr. Leonard described interactions with his patients staying in the hospital the previous evening. Throughout the course of his visits, conversation topics spanned serious, difficult discussions, as well as some of a more lighthearted nature, including doubles tennis and the New York Yankees.

IMG_6294

Dr. Leonard explained that making his rounds took only a few minutes, but it was the most fun part of his day, and it made a difference to his patients. He noted that small interactions, such as sitting down to talk and certain intricacies in the way that we connect with one another, have the potential to make a huge difference in our relationships.

“These things that you do on a daily basis and don’t even think of affect patients, colleagues and trainees,” said Dr. Leonard. “If we understand that and deliberately carry it through [to practice], we can make an even greater difference for our patients.”

Global Collaboration: Lymphoma Researchers Attend Workshop at Shanghai Institute of Hematology

In early July, several researchers from the Weill Cornell Medicine/NewYork-Presbyterian (WCM/NYP) Lymphoma Program traveled to Shanghai, China to participate in the first Lymphoma Research Workshop, jointly sponsored by WCM/NYP and Shanghai Institute of Hematology (SIH). The workshop aimed to foster clinical and translational research exchange and collaboration, with the goal of further global alliance with leading Chinese institutions.

Our own Drs. Leandro Cerchietti, Peter Martin, Ari Melnick, Kristy Richards, and Jia Ruan were in attendance. Drs. Melnick and Ruan co-organized the workshop with Drs. Saijuan Chen and Weili Zhao from SIH. SIH and its affiliated Ruijin Hospital (RJH) is a leader in human genomics and lymphoma research in China.

RuanMelnickShanghai
Dr. Ari Melnick (Left) and Dr. Jia Ruan

Dr. Melnick began by introducing the lymphoma research missions at WCM/NYP and provided an overview of our translational program, which integrates state-of-the-art genetic, epigenetic, and proteomic approaches to study lymphoma pathogenesis and inform development of mechanism-based therapeutics.

Dr. Zhao followed with a review of the recent lymphoma program developments at Ruijin Hospital, which focuses on building a multi-disciplinary diagnosis and treatment team. RJH’s translational development has been aimed at building a lymphoma biobank, next-generation sequencing, system biology, and biomarker investigations to support clinical research.

MartinCerchiettiShanghai
Dr. Peter Martin (Left) and Dr. Leandro Cerchietti

On the project level, Dr. Cerchietti discussed bench-to-bedside translation of epigenetic modifying agents, such as novel treatments that sensitize chemotherapy responses in patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). Dr. Martin then provided a comprehensive overview of the management approach for DLBCL in the U.S., reviewing important study design and findings of DLBCL clinical trials that incorporated novel agents, including epigenetic modifiers. Dr. Richards spoke about promises and challenges in canine lymphoma research in both the disease and drug development models.

RichardsShanghai
Dr. Kristy Richards

Additionally, Dr. Pengpeng Xu from RJH presented preliminary data of a phase 1 study using an epigenetic hypomethylating agent in combination with chemotherapy for DLBCL patients. This joint clinical project developed from the two institutions’ shared translational interest and expertise in exploring therapeutic potential of epigenetic agents in lymphoma.

Drs. Ruan and Melnick concluded the workshop by thanking the hosts at the Shanghai Institute of Hematology and Ruijin Hospital for their gracious hospitality. Faculty from both institutions are impressed by the progress of the ongoing collaboration and support further development of translational and clinical projects in the future, including academic exchange and joint translational and clinical trials.