When Katie Meacham was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in early 2008, she was 25 years old and enjoying a tasty bite of the Big Apple.
She had a good job with a large marketing firm in New York and a promising future in front of her. Then, during a trip to Buenos Aires, she noticed her feet were itching.
"It went away in a few days, but I started to realize I had been itching for a while," she says. "My arm had broken out in hives, my head had been itching and I itched when I got out of the shower."
Then she noticed a lump in her throat. Her mother was visiting and insisted on taking her to the doctor, which led to a CT scan and diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma. She opted to be treated at a New York hospital, but two months into treatment, the cancer was found in another lymph node.
Big Apple to Lone Star
"The doctor said he had seen this happen only one other time," she says. "He said I would need a stem cell or bone marrow transplant."
At MD Anderson, Meacham had aggressive chemotherapy that put the cancer into complete remission, and then her stem cells were harvested. Another week of chemo followed before her stem cells were transplanted back into her body.
"Those were dark days," she says. "Hurricane Ike hit Houston while I was in the hospital, and the day after I was released, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer."
Searching for one in 14 million
Meacham returned to work, certain the cancer was history this time. But her one-year follow-up PET scan showed it was back. It was time for a stem cell transplant from a donor. But of the 14 million people listed in the world-wide registry, not one person was a perfect match for her.
Undaunted, Meacham and her family became advocates for stem cell donation. She appeared on national television and in New York newspapers. Her family tirelessly recruited donors, raised funds and raised awareness. They helped seven people find matches -- but still none existed for Meacham.
Instead, she began a clinical trial at MD Anderson. From September 2009 to March 2010, the cancer was in remission, but she knew it was temporary. Then someone mentioned proton therapy.
Proton therapy delivers hope
"We weighed all the pros and cons and were very optimistic about proton therapy," Meacham says. "It was promising, had minimal side effects and wouldn't shut any doors for future treatment if I needed it."
She had 30 treatments during the course of six weeks. From beginning to end, each daily session took about 30 minutes. She has shown no signs of cancer since her proton therapy treatment ended in March 2010.
Since her therapy, Meacham has completed three half-marathons and is training for the New York City Marathon. She's working again, traveling every chance she gets and has moved to Chicago, where she continues building the career she'd started when this all began.
"I like to share my story and let people know to never give up hope," she says. "Focus on what's best for your journey. It's important to talk to other people and to be informed, but everyone's situation and disease are different."