The day her daughter was born is a bittersweet one for Rebecca Snell. That's also the day doctors discovered Snell, 23, had a rare form of cancer.
PITKIN–June 26, the day her daughter was born after a difficult final trimester and delivery, is a bittersweet one for Rebecca Snell. That's also the day doctors discovered Snell, 23, had a rare form of cancer.
"She has a combination of Hodgkins lymphoma and non-Hodgkins large B cell lymphoma," said Snell's stepfather, Mark Shackleton. "Doctors have told us that there have only been 22 other cases like Rebecca's in the past 20 years."
Throughout the last three months of her pregnancy, Snell reported to her doctors that she was having difficulty breathing and had a sore throat, but the physicians passed the concerns off as prenatal symptoms.
"They said that the shortness of breath was because of the baby pushing on my diaphragm and that the sore throat was bronchitis," Snell said.
It wasn't until she went into labor and gave birth that doctors realized they could not ignore her problems.
"When I was pushing, the doctor told me to push to the count of 10, but I couldn't make it past three," Snell said. "I spent the next seven counts gasping for air."
She was able to deliver her daughter naturally, but immediately after, doctors began administering tests. A chest x-ray revealed a large mass spanning down her throat, through her left lung and into her diaphragm. She was rushed to Lake Charles Memorial Hospital for emergency surgery, where doctors expected to perform a four-hour procedure to remove the mass. They soon realized, however, that removing the mass would kill her.
After 13 hours of surgery, doctors were only able to remove enough of the mass to do a biopsy.
Once doctors realized the extent of Snell's cancer, finding a doctor who could actually treat the disease became the battle.
"No one knew enough about it to be able to treat it," Shackleton said.
At last, the family happened upon Dr. Francesco Turturro, director of the Bone and Marrow Division at the Shreveport Medical Center, who gave Snell a glimmer of hope.
"He told me that lymphoma is one of the most treatable cancers known because there has been so much research done on it," Snell said.
Although she has not yet been given a prognosis, Snell has already begun chemotherapy treatments.
These days, she's also breathing a little easier.
"I am feeling better since I started the treatments," she said.
The downside to these life-saving treatments is that they leave Snell unable to take care of her infant daughter and 5-year-old son. "I take a treatment every 15 days, and my family has to take care of my kids for at least the next four days because I am just so sick from the chemo," Snell said.
In addition, she must take injections that leave her with extreme flu-like symptoms including nausea and body aches. "The shots make me hurt all over so intensely that I can't do much of anything for a few days after each one," she said.
The treatments steal precious time away from her children, she said. She only sees them for a combined two weeks out of each month.
"That's the hardest thing for me," she said. "Not having them here at home with me and being able to take care of them is really hard."
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