In April 2014, Isabel Orejel was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that affects the lymphatic system. This cancer causes white blood cells called lymphocytes to grow exponentially and create large growths throughout the body. An area-specialist quickly found lumps on Isabel’s neck and ordered chemotherapy.
Her chemotherapy lasted for eight, long months. While receiving chemotherapy, she tried to receive an allogeneic bone marrow transplant to help her get better, but she had no siblings and didn’t match with anyone in the registry.
Unfortunately, Isabel’s cancer relapsed, so she decided not to do chemotherapy again since she had young children and could not endure it a second time. She tried holistic approaches and energy work to manage the cancer so she could focus on her family, but her cancer continued to grow and spread at an exponential rate.
Isabel tried this approach for a couple years, but her cancer diagnosis worsened. Finally, she met Nilesh Vora, M.D., MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute, Long Beach Medical Center, while they were both on vacation in Mexico. They met because their daughters happened to be playing with each other at the pool.
Isabel and Dr. Vora quickly became friends and she told him about her condition. As the medical director at MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Medical Center, he recommended she try immunotherapy as treatment. She decided for the time being to continue her holistic approach.
When she got home from Mexico, she was scheduled to receive a PET scan to check the status of the cancer. The PET scan revealed the cancer was more aggressive than before, spreading to her liver and most of her chest cavity. The cancer was ravaging her body.
“We reunited for dinner and I spoke to her with candor,” Dr. Vora said. “I told her she was at risk for an impending, fateful end. She listened, and while thinking of her two young daughters and her loving husband, she decided to give immunotherapy a try.”
After that dinner, she left her former doctor and switched her insurance to preferred provider organization (PPO) and began working with Dr. Vora directly at the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute. Dr. Vora and his team supported her both physically and mentally as she started her treatment.
When Isabel started immunotherapy, she weighed 97 pounds and likely only had three months to live. Two years later, because her cancer responded well to immunotherapy, she gained all of her weight back.
“Before I received immunotherapy, I had to have my husband carry me to the restroom because I didn’t have the strength to do it myself,” said Isabel. “Now, I can go to the gym and chase my kids around the park.”
Today, she is thriving in her personal and family life. After treatment, she was able to complete her doctorate in education and continues to raise her children to persevere like their mother.
I’m a fighter, I’m resilient, I don’t give up. I have two beautiful daughters I need to fight for.
Thanks to her support group of her husband, her two daughters, her parents and the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute care team, Isabel continues to fight.