‘I couldn’t believe it’: Madison woman shares her unexpected diagnosis
MADISON, Wis. — As the year comes to a close, it’s time to set new goals for 2019. Many people make resolutions to improve health. A place to start is to listen to your intuition. That’s the important message Ellie Feldman is trying to share.
The 27-year-old Madison native has been on a medical odyssey the past couple of years, trying to find the reason for her constant fatigue. Feldman works full-time as a residential real estate agent and has never had a health problem.
“When I was 25, I started noticing a lot of fatigue, and I continued to notice that for a while. I started going to the doctor and getting blood work done, because I really wanted to find an answer. I thought maybe it was thyroid or something going on, because I was too young to be that tired.”
Feldman’s blood work showed nothing wrong, but the problem persisted.
“I started noticing if I had a glass of wine or a cocktail, I would get severe jaw pain,” Feldman said. “Sometimes it was in my back and my neck, too.”
Feldman met a doctor who decided to do a thyroid ultrasound. That’s when doctors saw that Feldman’s lymph nodes were enlarged.
“They put me in the scanner, and within a half-hour of getting home, I had a call from my primary care physician. She said, ‘We think you have lymphoma.’ I didn’t believe it” Feldman said. “I kept thinking, this can’t be happening. How is this happening to me? I felt scared.”
Feldman was diagnosed with stage 2A Hodgkin lymphoma, a specific type of lymphoma that is a cancer of the immune system. According to the American Cancer Society, 8,500 patients are diagnosed with lymphoma every year. Lymphoma affects the body’s lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system. Symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, night sweats, fatigue, fever and unexplained weight loss. The survival rate has been going up since 1975, thanks to treatment improvements.
Dr. Christopher Fletcher is Feldman’s oncologist at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center.
“There are actually a bunch of different kinds of lymphoma, and Hodgkin is one we call by name, Hodgkin lymphoma. There is also a category of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that has about 60 different cancers in it,” Fletcher said. “Predominantly these are going to be young patients, but there is a bimodal distribution, which is a scientific way of saying it happens to people who are very young and at age 60 and up. With the right treatment, we have a lot of success managing this type of lymphoma and making it a thing of the past for patients.”
The diagnosis of lymphoma in younger people who are expected to be healthy often leads to confusion.
“For example, one might mistake the symptoms of Hodgkin lymphoma for something like mono where things like fatigue and fevers can go on for a long period of time,” Fletcher said.
Feldman started a regimen of chemotherapy in September. Every other Monday, she brings friends and family with her to the chemo room, including her father, former Wisconsin Public Radio host Michael Feldman.
“I know this much about Ellie. She has situations in her life where things seem to be going all the way down,” Michael Feldman said. “What she’s done every time is leave no stone unturned. If there’s something causing her extreme anxiety, she finds a way to get back at it. Her competence is amazing. I’m very proud of her, and I actually feel better about myself and my life. If something like this happens to me, I can deal with it.”
Feldman is sharing her experience by documenting her cancer journey on social media. In regular updates on Facebook, she shares her thoughts and feelings and solicits advice. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I’m someone that, when I’m going through something hard, I like to reach out to others for support, and I feel less alone. I don’t like to suffer in silence. I get a lot of comfort from other people,” Feldman said.
She hopes by sharing her story, it will encourage others to trust their gut and to never give up.
“I feel really lucky that I found it and I found it early. My narrative in my head is never ‘Why did this happen to me?’ The narrative the whole time has been, ‘I’m so lucky.’ Follow your intuition if something in your body feels like it’s off. Follow up on it, even if it seems random. It’s made me realize what’s important in life. Being happy and enjoying family and friends is everything.”
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