Fatigue. Hot flashes. Thinning hair. The nagging feeling that something just wasn’t right.
In 2010, Kimberly Hill began experiencing these symptoms, so she turned to doctors in her hometown of Knoxville, Tenn. They diagnosed the mother of three with thyroid cancer. Kimberly, who was 40 at the time, underwent a thyroidectomy and radical neck surgeries for treatment.
But years later, the symptoms wouldn’t go away. In fact, they increased.
“I was beginning to feel like a hypochondriac,” Kimberly says. “I wasn’t feeling better. I was getting worse.”
When doctors wanted to perform additional surgeries, Kimberly refused. She conducted her own research and was impressed by the expertise of MD Anderson’s endocrine cancer team.
A different diagnosis: stage IV lymphoma
At MD Anderson, Kimberly got some surprising news: her original thyroid cancer diagnosis was wrong.
Instead, she had stage IV lymphocyte predominate Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The disease had spread to her lymph nodes, spleen, bone marrow and throughout her gastrointestinal tract.
Had she not been persistent, Kimberly feels she wouldn’t be here today.
“Get a second opinion,” she tells other patients. “Become an expert on your disease. Be able to verbalize it to your providers and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer when they tell you nothing’s wrong. You know when something’s wrong. Keep going until you find someone who will listen.”
Kimberly’s stage IV lymphoma treatment plan
Kimberly began treatment in November 2014, returning to Houston every 21 days for six rounds of intensive chemotherapy. Most times, she traveled to Houston alone so her mother could care for her 7-year-old daughter. (Her other two children are old enough to take care of themselves.) Thanks to her outgoing personality, she quickly adapted to her home away from home.
“I met an amazing friend with my same diagnosis. She’s been cancer-free for five years and was here for a follow-up,” Kimberly says. “She knew what kind of journey I was getting ready to go through. She was my cancer guide.”
Kimberly also received support from a high school friend, her Delta Sigma Theta Sorority sisters in the Houston area, social work counselor Annabelle Bitter and even the staff at the hotel where she stayed during her trips.
On May 4, Kimberly heard the words she’d waited so long to hear: no evidence of disease (NED). She was shocked when Jorge Romaguera, M.D., delivered the news.
“When something has consumed your every thought, your sleep pattern, affected your ability to work and to raise your children – and then to hear it’s over,” she says. “It took me probably the whole day to absorb it. And then I started telling everybody!”
A new lease on life after stage IV lymphoma
Kimberly will return to MD Anderson every three months over the next year for routine check-ups. Then, she’ll check in twice a year for three years and annually after that. She considers it a small price to pay, given all she has endured.
“I missed Christmas, New Years, Easter, birthdays and my daughter’s first recital, but I’d do it all over again to be here today,” she says.
One thing she’s pleased cancer took away is her fear. Kimberly is ready to make the best of her new life, without limitations.
“I look forward to finishing my Ph.D. within the next year, traveling with my daughter and showing her new things. It has given me a new lease on life to pursue the things I’ve always wanted.”