Go to work… plan daughter’s bat mitzvah… attend wedding in Italy…check. As a working mother, wife and student, wearing many hats and making sacrifices were just part of Cindy Gotz’s every day routine. Multi-tasking efficiently seemed to be ingrained in her DNA, however Cindy’s activities gradually began to fatigue her. Attributing her onset weariness to stress, losing a few hours of sleep didn’t seem like a major issue. While Cindy initially believed that balancing her busy schedule caused her onset exertion, she unknowingly was penciling in a much greater and potentially life-threatening condition into her agenda.
The summer of 2003 marked significant changes for Cindy and her family.
Her daughters Mollye and Rebecca were growing into adulthood, one finishing high school and the other celebrating a bat mitzvah, her niece wed in Italy - and Cindy was diagnosed with cancer. During a routine physical therapy session, Cindy and Arthur Lorber, M.D., rheumatologist, began to notice red flags that something was wrong with her body as she felt a choking sensation while exercising her neck and shoulder muscles. Concerned by Cindy’s inability to breathe properly, Dr. Lorber insisted that Cindy have an immediate full blood panel to test for the possibility of cancer and referred her to William J. Lyons, M.D., oncologist.
“Prior to diagnosis, I didn’t think too much about my symptoms,” says Cindy. “I remember feeling fatigued all the time and I had a severe case of anemia - which resulted in depletion of healthy red blood cells - but with all of the events going on in my life at that time I honestly believed that this was all brought on by everyday stress.”
While Cindy initially believed that her symptoms were a direct result of stress, a complete chart detailing Cindy’s blood work, computerized axial tomography (CAT) scans and biopsies, revealed that she had Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a type of cancer found within lymphocyte cells of the immune system. White blood cells transform and multiply at an alarming rate forming a mass, which could ultimately interfere with the normal function of surrounding tissues and organs.
“I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when I returned from my niece’s wedding in Italy,” says Cindy. “I remember asking Dr. Lyons if I had cancer, and if so, what was our next course of action to beat it?”
The summer season continued to be eventful for Cindy, and their family, now including a tumultuous journey of fighting Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
While cancer has the ability to disrupt and alter the lives of many people, Cindy used her mastery of recovering from the unexpected to proactively fight the strenuous battle of chemotherapy with the medical expertise of Dr. Lyons, and love and support from family and friends.
“Cindy was found to have a mass in her chest and through biopsy testing it was proven that the mass was positive for Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma,” says Dr. Lyons. “She came in for treatment in July of 2003 and started her first round of combination chemotherapy sessions, which consisted of: Rituxan®, Cytoxan, Adriamycin®, Oncovin® and Predninsone (R-CHOP). Receiving chemotherapy can be difficult and after each tolerated cycle the reward is more chemotherapy until completion.”
For the next two years, Cindy consistently received combination chemotherapy at the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute (TCI) at Long Beach Memorial. First she underwent eight months of R-CHOP treatment to kill the cancer, followed by 18 months of Rituxan® maintenance. Like many patients fighting cancer, Cindy’s journey wasn’t without complication.
“The first time I received treatment, my body reacted negatively to the medicine,” says Cindy. “I was admitted to the hospital as an inpatient for the first six treatment sessions, but was able to receive treatment at the Ambulatory Infusion Center at Long Beach Memorial for the last two remaining sessions.” The Ambulatory Infusion Center (AIC) at Long Beach Memorial provides outpatient treatment and support to patients with cancer. With state-of-the-art technology and specially certified staff, the AIC provides patients and their loved ones with education about medications, side effect management tools and the opportunity to obtain other needed services and support. During Cindy’s entire journey, her family and friends pulled together and supported each other while Cindy regained her strength.
“My daughters took on more responsibility around the house, my husband, my biggest advocate and cheerleader, made sure my parents and grandparents were by my side and my dearest friends cooked meals the week of my treatments and brought the girls to see me while I was in the hospital,” says Cindy. “The entire journey was difficult because it limited me being able to do all that I wanted. I wasn’t able to tour colleges with Mollye and that was upsetting, but my parents stepped in and made sure that it was still possible for my daughter.”
Though Cindy’s cancer journey consisted of a few detours and bumps along the way, she never allowed her diagnosis to deter her from accomplishing a healthy recovery.
“While receiving chemotherapy Cindy developed her own program to improve her health which included dietary changes, yoga and walking exercises, along with support groups that aid in the mental work accompanying the diagnosis of cancer,” says Dr. Lyons.
Cindy’s proactive attitude and the medical expertise of Dr. Lyons and the TCI care team propelled her toward recovery. Two years after diagnosis and completion of therapy, Dr. Lyons announced that Cindy was in remission. With a clean bill of health Cindy took her new lease on life and changed her career path, by enrolling in the graduate program of Health Science at California State University, Long Beach to pursue a Master’s Degree in Public Health.
“I started graduate school in the fall of 2005 post-diagnosis, because I truly felt that I could start something and finish it,” says Cindy. “I wanted to pursue a career in health care, because having the support of a strong health care system and support is the reason why I’m alive today.”
With hard work and determination, Cindy graduated and started her new career as part of Long Beach Memorial’s distinguished health care team. In the fall of 2007, she helped develop the gynecologic peer mentor program “Women Guiding Women”- 1 of only 2 peer-mentoring programs in the nation that aims to support newly diagnosed women with gynecologic cancer by offering a trained survivor as a peer mentor. Mentors provide over the phone support to encourage and empower women to share their journey with someone who has gone through a similar experience.
Reflecting on her strenuous cancer journey, Cindy and Dr. Lyons can both say that over the course of nine years, they have expanded their relationship from that of traditional doctor-to-patient to one of professional colleagues working together to improve the lives of cancer patients.
“I couldn’t thank Dr. Lyons and the care team enough,” says Cindy. “The nurses took such good care of me and my family. They answered any and every question we had, and were more than welcoming to all of my visitors. Most of all, they provided me with psychosocial support in addition to the outstanding medical expertise, and that alone makes Long Beach Memorial stand apart.”