Healthy Living

Overcoming Lymphoma: A South Philly Student's Story

18-year-old Alexis Carine was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma (HL). But Carine refused to let the cancer dictate her life and stop her from doing the things she loved.

Overcoming Lymphoma: A South Philly Student's Story

In April of 2018, 18-year-old Alexis Carine was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma (HL), a blood cancer that begins in the lymphatic system. Her diagnosis was stage II HL, a cancer found in two or more lymph node areas, and both are either above or below the diaphragm (the muscle located just beneath the lungs that regulates the process of breathing). Having no family history of the disease and fairly tolerable symptoms, the shocking news took her family, friends, and the entire South Philly community by surprise. But Carine refused to let the cancer dictate her life and stop her from doing the things she loved.

Even when she slowly began undergoing treatment, the junior at String Theory School was determined to finish out the year. “I actually stayed in school, which people were really surprised at. It was April, so I was like, ‘Let me just ride the rest of the year out,’ which was good for me…I’d rather be with my friends and keep my mind away from it than just sit home and mope about it” said Carine. And although her doctor ordered her against participating in the remainder of softball season, she was right there on the sidelines, cheering on her fellow teammates.

Return to the volleyball court

Throughout the summer of 2018, Carine underwent multiple rounds of chemotherapy, which involved a 3-night stay at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia every 3 weeks. She also underwent smaller treatment sessions on Fridays. Following chemotherapy, she received radiation therapy at Pennsylvania Hospital from late July until mid-August.

Now a senior and the new team captain of her volleyball team, Carine was determined to make it back to her team, which comprised of girls from String Theory and the Girard Academic Music Program. Just one day after her treatment ended, she was in the gym at South Philadelphia High School, guiding the girls. “I was astounded. Every time I called her, I expected her to maybe be a little bit down or feel weak…but she was just amazingly upbeat about the entire thing” said Anthony Scafidi, head coach of the team.

Scafidi recalled messaging with Carine via text during her treatments, urging her not to push herself to attend practices in August. But the avid athlete refused to back down. “I will be back better than ever in August. You aren’t losing me that easy” she wrote back to him.

Carine stressed that she wanted to be strong and to push forward with her life, and not have a cancer diagnosis hold her back from pursuing her passions. “I feel like, it would help me grow as a person if I just kept fighting and not let these battles ruin me…I just didn’t want to quit that easily. I wanted to pull through and not let it stop me from playing volleyball, because I love volleyball. So, I didn’t want it to stop me from playing, because that would probably break me more” she said.

Even though her team had confronted some of the best teams in the district this year, coach Scafidi said that the group of 20 girls did not get discouraged and they continuously supported one another, despite the losses. He credited this attitude to Carine’s positivity, feeling as though her energy made its way to the other girls. “The whole team, with her leading, never once got down. They never bickered amongst each other. They were on the bench cheering like crazy for each other. Every point mattered, and I thought to myself, ‘I’ve been coaching 35 years. I’ve never seen a team as resilient as this team’” he said.

No limits to success

With volleyball season coming to a close, Carine is considering joining either the swim team or the basketball team to finish out her senior year. Although the creative writing major, dancer, and photographer is passionate about the arts and athletics, she is applying to colleges across the nation in hopes to pursue medicine.

Carine’s dream is to become a pediatric nurse, specifically focusing on neonatology. Her aspiration to enter into the field of medicine comes from a young age, but she said that receiving cancer treatments among young children only intensified her desire.

Now in remission, Carine is moving into the next phase of her life. “I think (having cancer) taught me to keep my faith through everything, because there’s always positives through a negative, and I just feel like, if you keep the right mindset, and don’t think about being mopey and miserable, it can have a bright outlook. And people can get very inspired. I still get inspired by other things” she said.

HL: diagnosis, prognosis, and outlook

HL originates in white blood cells that protect the body against germs and infections. Called lymphocytes, when these white blood cells begin to grow abnormally, they spread beyond the lymphatic system, making it more difficult for the body to fight infections. HL can be diagnosed at any age, although diagnosis is more common among individuals between the ages of 15 and 40, as well as individuals over the ages of 55.

The main cause of HL remains unknown; however, the disease has been associated with DNA mutations or changes, as well as to the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). The most common symptom of HL is swelling of the lymph nodes, which causes a lump to form just beneath the skin. Usually, this lump is not painful and it can form in the armpit, on the side of the neck or around the groin. Other symptoms that the disease can trigger include fever, fatigue, night sweats, unintentional weight loss, itchy skin, and difficulty breathing.

Treatment for HL typically depends on the stage of the disease, although the main treatment options are chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Prognosis also greatly depends on the stage and type of lymphoma, but advancements in the treatment options over the past 30 years have greatly increased survival rates. Many types of lymphomas, like stage II HL, are treatable and highly curable, with a five-year survival rate of 90%.