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Burkitt's Lymphoma Survivor Helps Others

Network - Fall 2010


By Mary Brolley

Kendall Kayworth always knew she wanted to become a nurse — in fact, an oncology nurse. Her only concern was that she wouldn’t be able to relate to cancer patients.

She needn’t have worried.

In 2008, Kayworth was studying abroad in Argentina when she noticed that a lymph node in her neck had become enlarged. When it didn’t shrink, the 20-year-old’s parents in Dallas became concerned enough to fly her home for medical attention.

Soon she was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, an aggressive type of B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that occurs most often in children and young adults.

She received treatment at MD Anderson with hyper-CVAD and rituximab — a potent chemotherapy regimen given in the hospital about every three weeks. It combines the rituximab with cyclophosphamide, vincristine, Adriamycin® and dexamethasone for odd cycles and with high-dose methotrexate and cytarabine for even ones.

'I let them vent'

Despite the cancer’s aggressive nature, Kayworth says her physician, Deborah Thomas, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Leukemia, quickly reassured her.

“She said I had a good prognosis — that this was just a bump in the road,” Kayworth recalls.

A second-year student at Baylor University’s Louise Herrington School of Nursing, she completed a nursing externship this summer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. She worked on a leukemia/lymphoma floor.

“I’ve seen patients when they’re newly diagnosed. They’re in shock. It’s still so new,” she says.

A couple of times she told them that she, too, is a cancer survivor.

“I understand if they’re having trouble sleeping, or with side effects. I let them vent if they need to.”

Her experience — of having her life “derailed” for a year to undergo cancer treatment — makes her more aware of young cancer patients. She recalls when one of her physicians talked to her about the chance that the cancer and its treatment might affect her fertility.

“That was the first time I cried,” she says.

Grateful for recovery and help

Now healthy and happy, Kayworth credits her medical team, her friends and her loving family for her recovery.

She’s especially grateful to her mom, Deana, who stayed with her in Houston during the long months of treatment.

“I couldn’t have done it without her. That goes for my entire family, but she really took care of me. She was with me 24/7.”

To share her experience with other young patients, Kayworth joined the Anderson Network Telephone Support Line.

“I like talking to people in their 20s and 30s,” she says. “It’s an age group that hasn’t been reached.”

Set to graduate from Baylor’s nursing program in two years, she hopes to become a nurse practitioner or a clinical nurse specialist.

She already knows she’ll have an instant connection with her patients.

“Ninety-eight percent of the medical staff have sympathy for the patients — but I have empathy,” she says.

To become a telephone support volunteer or to be connected with another caregiver or survivor, call 800-345-6324 or 713-792-2553, or go online.  

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center