Thursday, September 16, 2021

Health challenge inspires teen to service

It’s a typical weekday morning, and Flower Mound High School senior Amanda Paul sits comfortably in her oncologist’s office.

She’s enduring another round of chemotherapy for Stage 4 classical Hodgkin lymphoma, and though chemo is never easy and can include everything from bouts of sickness to fatigue and hair loss, Amanda is taking it all in stride.

The doctor looks at her with an amazed expression on his face and insists Amanda is the most positive kid he’s met.

“I was happy with anything that could make me feel better,” Amanda said. “That’s what helped me stay positive — thinking back to how sick I was before the diagnosis. I was more upset by not having an answer than with the cancer diagnosis.”

She added, “It was everywhere. But some areas are completely gone now, and others have shrunk dramatically.”

The good news is that Amanda should be finished with her bi-weekly treatments by mid-November. She’ll get her long, beautiful hair back, and she’s expected to make a full recovery.

Classical Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system and most often spreads through the lymph vessels from lymph node to lymph node. While scary, advances in diagnosis and treatment give most people a chance for a full recovery — including in Amanda’s case. Even more important was that her parents, Rob and Jennifer, are in a decent spot financially to handle the ballooning medical expenses.

Sadly, not every patient or their family can afford treatment. Knowing how lucky she is, Amanda is giving back by partnering with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) to kick-start Amanda’s Light The Night Fundraiser on Saturday, November 6 at Trinity Groves Park in Dallas. Light The Night is a community walk where individuals and teams can gather together to celebrate, honor, and remember those touched by cancer. And the goal of LLS is to fund research for cancers, particularly blood cancers, and provide financial support to families through events and fundraising.

Amanda hopes to raise $25,000 to support the initiative. As of press time, she had already raised just more than $6,000.

“With September being Leukemia and Lymphoma Awareness Month, this is a great time to spread awareness,” Amanda said. “I was lucky, and I see this as an opportunity to use my platform to help others. All the money I raise will go to LLS.”

Amanda is simply happy to be living a normal teenage life again. She’s one of four siblings in the Paul household, the others being Robby (16), Sami (14), and Charlie (12). She’s still working part-time as a lifeguard at Great Wolf Lodge and is an active member of Young Life Lewisville/Flower Mound. She even dances competitively for Footlights Dance Studio and plans to be a nurse when she moves on after high school.

Her journey to remission began back in March while on a family ski trip. Seemingly out of the blue, her legs became uncontrollably itchy — especially from the knees down. At first, she thought it was because her skis were too tight and had hindered blood flow. But the condition didn’t go away.

“I went to work at Great Wolf Lodge, and I was still so itchy,” she said. “I’m a lifeguard, so again, I figured that maybe I was suddenly allergic to the chlorine in the water. But that wasn’t it either. My pediatrician thought it was scabies because of the marks on my legs and gave me a treatment for that, but it didn’t work. My pediatrician thought I was anemic and gave me more iron, but that didn’t work, either. In fact, it only got worse.”

Amanda dealt with intense itchiness, an unbreakable fever, and back pain over the next three months as she and her mom traipsed in and out of dermatologist offices and visiting with every specialist they could find at area children’s hospitals.

“No one could figure out what was wrong, and I was getting worse,” she said.

It wasn’t until she was referred to an oncology surgeon at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas that she found an answer.

“The oncologist surgeon was convinced I had lymphoma. We were about to go on vacation, and everyone had been telling us that we could go without any problems. She said that we should not go and instead get started with treatment,” she said. “She did a lymph node biopsy, which confirmed it was cancer. I had a PET scan and found cancerous lymph nodes throughout my chest, neck, groin, and spleen. It was everywhere.”

She added, “That scan lit up like a Christmas tree. But at least I had a diagnosis. A lot of people who get diagnosed with cancer aren’t that sick. The chemo is what makes them sick. I was the opposite. I was sick and had a fever, and it was hard to breathe at certain points. I started chemo in June, and a week later, the itching and fever were gone. I didn’t have back pain, and my stomach pain was also gone.”

And in classic Amanda Paul fashion, she has handled everything that came next with grace and determination. She and her family had a head-shaving party so that she knew she wasn’t alone in the fight. She bravely jumped into her chemo treatment plan, which includes treatments every other Friday from now until November. And then, of course, she began looking at ways she could help make the process that much easier for others.

“I just wanted to do something good for others,” she said.

To learn more about Amanda’s Light The Night Fundraiser, click here.

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