During her junior year of high school, Lauren Antognoli was diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After going through a rigorous six-month treatment, she emerged a survivor — the cancer is officially in remission. Now enrolled in Georgetown’s Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Medical program,Antognoli hopes to achieve her lifelong goal of becoming a doctor. Antognoli has been involved in the Prevent Cancer Foundation, where she currently serves as a liaison to its board of directors. She has also used her unique experiences to mentor others that are going through similar situations and hopes to continue the fight against cancer.

What was your initial reaction when you were diagnosed with cancer?

I was 17, a junior in high school. Around January of 2002 I noticed a lump on my neck. I thought it was just an enlarged lymph node but it kept getting bigger, so my mom took me to see the family physician. When we met with an oncologist, he said that judging on the looks of my scans, I had cancer. After [the doctor] took a biopsy, it was narrowed down to stage 2 A Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

When I found out, it was a lot of emotions, but I was more shocked than anything else; I didn’t even cry or anything because it all happened so quickly. Basically, the day after my biopsy results, we jumped right into planning my treatment. It didn’t sink in, but I had to call my teachers, friends and family to tell them what was going on. The words were coming out of my mouth, but it was just me saying, “I have cancer,” even though I was just trying to understand it myself. It felt very unreal to me.

What was the hardest part of going through treatment?

I did chemotherapy for about six months. The treatment started off pretty easy and I remember thinking that it was nothing. All of a sudden, it just hits you like a truck — and it gets harder every treatment. I felt a lot of fatigue and started losing my hair 20 days into the treatment. Aside from the chemo, I took up to 21 pills [in] a day. Every drug has its side effects, and I had to take more drugs that counter those side effects. Physically the chemo and the pills were the hardest part by far. There was a lot going on at once in my body, and it was definitely a physical challenge.

What were some of the greatest challenges you faced as a teenager battling cancer?

Especially as a female teenager, you’re worried about your appearance and you want to look good but I was completely out of control of my own body. These drugs were taking over my body, but at the same time I needed them to survive. I lost my hair, I had extreme weight fluctuations; I had bone pain all the time. I barely looked like myself. Also, as a teen you want to establish independence from your parents, but I actually became even more dependent on mine. The second I got sick, I was pulled back into being completely dependent on my parents. My mom had to drive me to every treatment and give me my pills. That was hard, especially because my friends were off doing other things that I couldn’t do. People also looked me at differently; some of my friends stopped talking to me. I went to junior prom in a wig and had to sit down for most of it.

How do you think being diagnosed with cancer has changed you as a person?

Being sick really allowed me to focus on what was important to me in my life, and I realized that I didn’t need to worry about the little things. What you’re wearing today or who likes who doesn’t matter; it’s more about what makes you happy and what improves your quality of life. I took it a day at a time and all of this gave me a really unique perspective, which I am very thankful for.

Did you always want to become a doctor? Or was it inspired from your experiences?

I was actually always interested in becoming a doctor. When I got sick, I was immersed in the world of medicine and instead of being someone studying to be a doctor, I was the patient. After treatment I needed a break from all of this so when I went to college I decided not to major in medicine. I majored in sociology and anthropology, but I found a lot of that related to illness. I’m thankful that I didn’t dive straight into pre-med because I was allowed to look at the medical world from a different perspective, but after taking some time off, I regrouped and felt ready to become a doctor.

Any advice that you would give someone that has been diagnosed with cancer or a life-threatening disease?

I think it’s really important to educate yourself on the disease and be an advocate for yourself. I was lucky to have my mother as my advocate; if she didn’t take me back to the doctor for that second checkup I probably wouldn’t be here. I really encourage people to work hard to get the best care possible. If you have questions for a doctor, don’t feel bad about asking. You’re so out of control for what’s happening in your body and the one thing you can control is how you’re going to live your life, how you take care of yourself and who you surround yourself with.

SURVIVOR Lauren Antognoli, a student in the Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Med program, was inspired by her cancer diagnosis to work towards ending the disease
SURVIVOR Lauren Antognoli, a student in the Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Med program, was inspired by her cancer diagnosis to work towards ending the disease

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