One Physician Facing Two Diseases of Her Own: A Hodgkin Lymphoma Story

According to a story reported by The New York Times, on Christmas Day, a physician and mom of two became too weak and fatigued to do much of anything. Her husband, who is also a physician at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, came home from work late and had to put the kids to bed. His wife could hardly follow behind on the stairs.

She had been experiencing some weird symptoms for the past couple of weeks, but that Christmas night was when she knew she had something to be concerned about. She took to the computer to write to a neurologist and ask to be seen. When the office said no, her physician perks stepped in. She asked to at least get some testing done, and the neurologist obliged.

The doctor had her blood drawn and results came back shortly thereafter. Another physician perk: she could read her own results and interpret them. She found that most of her levels looked normal, except one.

A particular protein was shown to be too high. This same protein, one that is released when muscles sustain injury, was still high in a subsequent blood test she took. The neurologist, Dr. Young, was concerned about this along with her symptoms.

Dr. Young immediately came over to her office to examine her, a place she usually examines many patients daily. She explained to the neurologist that the weakness had first appeared a few months ago, and escalated to the point where she was unable to carry out her daily routine workouts.

So then he examined her. Doing a standard examination of the arms and leg muscles, Dr. Young grew concerned as he realized that she showed significant weakness. He concluded that his fellow doctor had some sort of myositis, which is an inflammatory disorder of the muscles. Given the rash on her hands, which he had observed during the muscle examination, he concluded that it was likely dermatomyositis (DM) specifically.

DM is dangerous, but there are treatments available for it. However, the newly diagnosed patient’s newest concern was the associated risk of cancer with DM. She now focused on scheduling an appointment with a rheumatologist to check for potential cancer.

Dr. Floranne Ernste felt an abnormally enlarged lymph node at the physician’s neck, and ordered a muscle biopsy to confirm the DM diagnosis as well as a CT scan of her chest, abdomen and pelvis to check for cancer. There would also need to be a biopsy taken of the enlarged lymph node.

The results of the CT scan, ultrasound, and lymph node biopsy confirmed the news she didn’t want to hear: she had cancer. Specifically, the physician had Hodgkin lymphoma.

Hodgkin lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the lymph nodes and the lymphatic system. In this context, it makes sense that the results of her many tests and scans showed enlarged lymph nodes throughout her body. The abnormal growth of cells in Hodgkin lymphoma results in a decreased ability to fight infection. Treatment options for Hodgkin lymphoma include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and immunotherapy. To learn more about this type of cancer, click here.

In the case of this physician, the Hodgkin lymphoma was also the cause of the dermamyositis, and she was to be treated for the lymphoma as soon as possible. Extra treatment for DM was not necessary as it was caused by the cancer.

She finished her chemotherapy last year and is back to seeing patients. Thanks to her fast diagnosis and treatment, the physician was able to get back on her feet again. Turns out, it doesn’t hurt to be a doctor when you’re fighting two diseases.

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