Small lymphocytic lymphoma survivor: 'There's so much hope out there'

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saunders55.jpgBy Brian Doucet

Shortly before Christmas in 2009, Laurie Saunders was preparing for a happy day. Her first grandchild would soon be born, and she was loading a stroller into the back of a pickup truck before heading to the baby shower. But while lifting the stroller into the cab, she felt an unusual pain in her shoulder. Assuming it was something minor, she headed to her doctor, where she underwent an MRI.

Shortly afterwards, Laurie received a voicemail from her doctor asking for a return call: the MRI revealed enlarged lymph nodes.

"I told my husband, and that's it," she says. "I'm a workhorse and didn't think it could be cancer. It was a scary thought."

Blood work was completed and she was referred to an oncologist in the San Antonio area, where a CT scan revealed several swollen lymph nodes throughout her body.  After a biopsy, Laurie received a diagnosis of small lymphocytic lymphoma (SLL), a type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Laurie's path to MD Anderson for SLL treatment
Laurie visited with several doctors in the San Antonio area for opinions on SLL treatment, but it was her son's research that led her to MD Anderson.

"He saw that MD Anderson had been the top-ranked cancer center for the last 10 years," she says. "From there, he said, 'It's two hours and forty-five minutes away. We're going.'"

She met with Felipe Samaniego, M.D., associate professor of Lymphoma/Myeloma, and enrolled in a six-month clinical trial designed to be less toxic than traditional chemotherapy.

"I felt a little fatigued during the process, but I kept my same daily routine and didn't lose any hair," Laurie says.

After continuing the trial for an additional six months, Laurie was in complete remission and has been cancer-free for the past three years. She recently began treatment on a maintenance basis in hopes extending her remission period.

Laurie counts her positive attitude and the unwavering support of her husband and three children as a huge factor in her recovery. "In the first week after my diagnosis, I spent countless hours researching and trying to solve it," she says. "But at the start of treatment, I said a prayer and decided that no matter what, I won't complain. I just decided that I have to trust something, so I put that trust in God and Dr. Sam."

Life after SLL treatment
Since her SLL treatrment, Laurie has become involved with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, participating in their annual Light the Night Walk. Her daughter even recruited Dr. Samaniego and his wife to participate in the event. 

"My daughter mailed him a letter that first year," she says. "Much to our surprise, he and his wife decided to make the drive and participate."

Laurie also has a new outlook on life and has made more time for friends and family.

"It's a life-changing experience," she says. "It was not the end of the world. There's so much hope out there, especially at MD Anderson."

To make an appointment with MD Anderson's Lymphoma & Myeloma Center, call 1-877-632-6789 or visit our website.

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