From College to Chemo: When Life’s Biggest Test Happens Outside of a Classroom

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Young adult cancer survivor Leanne Jones holds up a homemade chemo sign
 

Ask any young adult what the best thing about finishing school is and there’s a high likelihood you’ll hear, “No more tests.” When Lavinia Jones graduated Ball State University a semester early, she never imagined that her biggest test was yet to come.

Soon after graduation, Jones moved to the Dallas and Fort Worth area to live with her parents while she searched for new career opportunities. That’s when she began to notice something unusual about her arm.

“[Dr. Albritton] was just so positive. She said, ‘I work with AYA patients all the time and we’re going to get through this together.’” Jones said. “From then on, I trusted her with my life, and I’ve been positive every day.”Lavinia Jones

“My arm was always in pain. It felt like I pulled or tore a muscle,” Jones said. “It was hard to use and it shook when I picked it up.”
The nagging pain was muted by the excitement of her first career opportunity. Jones was offered, and accepted, a communications position in Atlanta, Georgia. In preparation for her big move, her mom bought and had her try on a pair of work pants. When she tried them on, she felt a painful sensation shoot through her arm. Her bone broke.

“I was screaming, and my parents were like, ‘oh my gosh, what’s going on?’” she recalled. “We went to a nearby urgent care and I was in so much pain that the doctor couldn’t understand me.”

She received pain medication and a follow up appointment with a physical therapist. At that visit, she learned that the cause of her pain was more complex than a superficial muscle strain. He sent her to an orthopedic specialist.

“The specialist asked me to raise my arm and I couldn’t. She took an X-ray, and that was the first time I learned that my arm was broken.” Jones recalled.” She said, ‘It looks like there is a tumor inside of your bone,’ but she couldn’t tell me if it was cancerous.”

Jones held onto hope, but another week-long wait between appointments induced anxiety, panic attacks, night sweats and fear of the unknown. When she finally met with an orthopedic oncologist, a biopsy confirmed a diagnosis of osteosarcoma, a bone cancer most commonly diagnosed in children and young adults.

“As soon as she said, ‘You have cancer,’ everything just flashed before my eyes. I kept thinking I’m not going to be able to fall in love, give someone life and do all the things I wanted to do…because I’m going to die,” Jones recalled. “It was out of my control, and I had to put my life in someone else’s hands. I sobbed and sobbed. I let it all out the day I was diagnosed.”

When the doctor began describing the many surgical options available, one word was louder than the rest – amputation. She began thinking of all the societal factors associated with losing a limb, how she would get by without her dominant arm and how she would be able to adjust to such a dramatically different way of life.

Burdened with a fear of the unknown, Jones was referred to Dr. Karen Albritton, a Fort Worth oncologist who specializes in treating cancers in young adults. That interaction inspired a change in perspective that Jones beams about to this day.

“[Dr. Albritton] was just so positive. She said, ‘I work with AYA patients all the time and we’re going to get through this together.’” Jones said. “From then on, I trusted her with my life, and I’ve been positive every day.”

Following Jones’ surgery to remove her tumor, she started to feel more “alive.” Text messages, supportive comments and social media love from her friends and family reminded her about life outside of a hospital room. The experience inspired her to travel and pursue the opportunities she rarely prioritized.

More than a year after her diagnosis, Jones has already begun to “pay it forward,” volunteering her time to ensure young adults diagnosed with cancer today, tomorrow and a year from now have a better experience she did.

Her hope is that organizations like the Fort Worth AYA Oncology Coalition can develop programs to help young adult cancer patients become more confident, supported and to better understand the psychological complexities following a cancer diagnosis.

In the meantime, Jones continues to build upon the life-changing perspective offered to her by young-adult-focused cancer care. Her message? That life is all about perspective.

“There are some cancers and diseases that are fatal. If you ‘live’ while you are here, then you are survivor.

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This article is a part of a series of stories that highlight the life-changing impact cancer has in the lives of local young people. The Fort Worth AYA Oncology Coalition exists to ensure that all cancer patients, survivors and their families have relevant resources, comprehensive support and specialized care they deserve. Learn how you can help us make that a reality at our North Texas Giving Day headquarters.