Dublin Teen’s Cancer Battle: It Takes a Village to Fight Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
DUBLIN, CA — Dublin High School Class of 2013 alum and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo sophomore Camille Chabot is no stranger to our readers. She’s written about her experiences as a Dublin High School cheerleader and as a member of the McGrath School of Irish Dance, and more recently was interviewed about her first year of college (as part of our Life in College Series).
Camille’s story took a life-changing turn late this summer when, after months of uncertainty, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma (also known as Hodgkin’s disease). Since sharing her story publicly there has been an outpouring of community support symbolized by #camillestrong in hundreds of social media posts from around the world, coverage in the San Jose Mercury News and more recently on CBS SF Bay Area News. Vito’s Express, supporters and friends of the Chabot family will be hosting a fundraiser in support of the Camille Strong Foundation on Friday December 12 at Vito’s Pizza Express in Dublin. The Chabot Family also has a fundraiser page setup to support medical expenses on GoFundMe.
Camille graciously agreed to share her story with OneDublin.org while recovering from her fifth round of chemotherapy. She hopes her story helps other teens facing similar cancer battles. Her positive attitude and infectious smile, despite everything she has experienced in recent months, is inspiring.
OneDublin.org: When did you first get an inkling that something wasn’t right?
Camille Chabot: “The first indication came out of a yearly check-up when the doctor felt a bump on my throat, I never felt anything out of the ordinary. I had a needle biopsy and the results were inconclusive, so I was advised to check again in four months. I went back during spring break and the results were again inconclusive. The discussion then shifted to thinking about surgical options and further testing. The doctor thought the problem was with my thyroid, so half my thyroid and a little bit of my lymph nodes were removed. It ended up that my thyroid was benign but not my lymph nodes.”
OneDublin.org: How did you approach all of the decisions that had to be made during the process – both medical and personal?
Chabot: “I couldn’t have done it without my mom, I really relied on her advice and motivation. It was really overwhelming from the moment that I was diagnosed in the beginning of September to my first chemotherapy treatment because we didn’t know what was going to happen next. We had to keep ourselves really organized – I had a to do list at the side of my bed and every day I made sure I was crossing items off the list.
“Did I contact all my Cal Poly professors to withdraw from my classes? I’d ordered all of my books for the fall semester and had to return them. Should I take a break? Should I take more classes closer to home? Should I get a job? Should I keep this a secret? I had a lot going through my mind on top of the medical treatments that were about to begin.”
OneDublin.org: For other young adults about the start the cycle of chemotherapy treatments that you are now in the middle of, what should they expect?
“I know people get really nervous about chemotherapy but so far it hasn’t been as bad as I expected. You sit in treatment for four hours and for me visitors have really helped. Some people choose not to have visitors but for me the treatments go by faster with people to talk to, rather than just watching a movie and having so many thoughts running through your head. I like the distraction of having people around me.”
“I’m supposed to have chemotherapy every two weeks, but there is never a guarantee that I’ll have a treatment when I walk into the doctor’s office. If my white blood cell count is too low, or I’m getting sick, it’s not healthy for me to have a treatment. The first thing that happens on a treatment day is a quick blood test from my finger to measure my white blood cell count. Luckily we’ve been able to stay on schedule, aside from the holidays, and we should be done by March.”
OneDublin.org: Talk about the side effects of chemotherapy, what you were told to expect and what you’ve actually experienced.
Chabot: “I’ve learned that there are many different kinds of chemotherapy, that a breast cancer patient, for example, receives a very different kind of chemotherapy than I’m receiving. For me the most significant side effect has been fatigue. Yesterday I kept myself in bed and watched a lot of TV. I felt really sore, with flu-like symptoms, and my back starting hurting to the point where I could hardly walk, but today I’m fine. I typically have treatment on a Wednesday and it’s Friday when the fatigue typically hits me the hardest. I also take anti-nausea medication for a few days after each treatment.
“I was supposed to lose my hair over a month ago, which I’m not looking forward to, but after my last treatment my hair will start growing back, possibly with a different color and texture.
“Most difficult was being told that I could lose my chance of conceiving and having children due to chemotherapy. We decided to attempt to harvest my eggs before the chemotherapy started but after tons of appointments and shots it didn’t work out.”
OneDublin.org: You chose to have a “port” implanted in your upper chest for the chemotherapy treatments. Why did you decide to go that route and what has been your experience?
Chabot: “I honestly forget I have it. When I first looked into having a port implanted I was freaking out. I Google’d “chemotherapy port”, saw pictures and thought I’d have this huge thing inside me and that I’d be wearing turtle necks for the rest of my life due to the scar, but it’s really not that bad.
“For chemotherapy treatments there are different options you can choose from. You can have a needle inserted in your arm, like having blood taken, but it supposedly ruins your veins and isn’t healthy. I’m glad I got the port because it makes it much easier to deliver the chemotherapy drugs without damaging my veins.
“Having the port implanted is an outpatient surgery. I had the surgery two days before my first chemotherapy treatment and was sore from the surgery for a few days.”
OneDublin.org: When you complete chemotherapy what happens next? Is there additional treatment required?
Chabot: “There is a possibility the cancer will come back, but I’m hoping to go back to school. I should be done with treatment around March 11 and I plan to start school March 25 so I’m hoping to be able to return that day. For the type of cancer I have radiation therapy isn’t part of the treatment.
“Other than having the port removed and regular check-ups the hope is I can return to a normal life.”
OneDublin.org: Since the diagnosis earlier this year you’ve been very open and public about your experience. If you could re-write history would you have kept your cancer battle private? Do you have any regrets about sharing your story so openly?
Chabot: “I was born into a very public family, so I’m not sure I had the choice but I’m not against it! My mom would have kept it quiet if that’s what I really wanted. I like the support, and social media gives me my strength. The messages on social media let me know that people are rooting for me, and that I’m not fighting this by myself. Getting messages from people I saw in high school, that I wasn’t even friends with, even if just a sentence or two really means a lot to me.”
OneDublin.org: What advice do you have for young adults that have just been diagnosed, or who are starting treatment?
Chabot: “In September when I had doctor appointments every day I hated it. I felt that was my life now, waiting rooms and doctors. It has gotten easier with time and it helped when I started checking things off my to do list.
“I’ve been trying to keep myself busy with school, taking online courses, and plan to continue doing so in the winter so I don’t fall too far behind. I’ve also been babysitting a lot and may return back to the company where I had a summer internship. I like to keep myself busy.”
OneDublin.org: Telling your story so publicly has surely helped other young adults and their families know they aren’t alone. Are you thinking of other ways you can help other teens like you?
“Our family has also created the Camille Strong Foundation and once I’m done with my fertility treatment we hope to help other teen females going through the same experience. Harvesting eggs is very expensive and, in our case, wasn’t covered by our insurance so we want to give other teen girls who don’t have the financial means the chance to try and preserve their fertility.”
OneDublin.org: With everything that’s happened, and all the research you’ve done, is there anything that’s happened that you didn’t expect?
Chabot: “I didn’t expect to get so much love and support! This experience has definitely brought people closer to me. I was very worried about getting pity looks, and when I went to a Dublin High School football game the extra stares I got were insane, but there were also an extra amount of hugs, words of encouragement and pats on the back, so that really meant a lot. The support from the community has been my biggest strength, and my advice to other teens is to look for strength in those around you.”
There will be a fundraiser in support of the Camille Strong Foundation on Friday December 12 at Vito’s Pizza Express in Dublin.