Missy's Story

Her Battle Against Hodgkin's Lymphoma

"Now when you die, your life goes on.
 It doesn't end here when you're gone.

"And now these
three remain:
faith, hope, and
love. But the
greatest of these
is love."
1 Corinthians 13:13


    In late September of 2002, Melissa Leigh Sutton, age 24, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. She had been sick, on and off, since the beginning of the year. Various doctors had told her: flu, bronchitis, allergies, bad cold, etc. She began to lose weight, eventually about 40 pounds in all. She had itching, fevers, and drenching night sweats.  One doctor even said to her that he'd think she might have cancer, but she was "too young." He sent her on her way with another of what would turn out to be a series of prescriptions for antibiotics. Another physician accused her of being on drugs because of her weight loss. All of them were wrong. One would think that such a disease as cancer would be quite obvious to a physician. It wasn't. Only about 7,000 cases of Hodgkin's Lymphoma occur in the United States each year.

     Missy had to get sicker and sicker before she finally got sick enough for someone to figure out why. There are Hodgkin's patients who go even longer than Missy did, being repeatedly misdiagnosed. It's a shame, but it happens and seems to happen especially to undiagnosed Hodgkin's patients, maybe because most of them are so young, and healthy otherwise. From contact with other Hodgkin's patients, Missy's story of misdiagnosis is not unusual. Hodgkin's Disease is quite rare. The location of Missy's tumor, behind her breast bone, made it impossible for the physicians to see or feel.

    On Monday, September 23, 2002, Missy began to run a high fever and decided to go to the emergency room of Floyd Medical Center in Rome, Georgia. She told the emergency room doctor that she kept getting sick, to please find out what was wrong with her. An x-ray and then a CT scan were done and finally someone in the medical profession realized that Missy needed some real help, not just another prescription for antibiotics.

    The next morning Missy underwent a biopsy in order to determine what was causing the softball size mass shown by the CT scan. This turned out to be major surgery. The surgeons said that from her symptoms, it appeared that she was suffering from some type of lymphoma. Lab results of the biopsy would acertain what was causing the mass.

    Missy's first visit with her first oncologist, Dr. McCormick, was in mid October. (They gave her a little time to recover from the biopsy.) This was when we found out that the diagnosis was definitely Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Her diagnosis was Hodgkin's Lymphoma nodular sclerosis Stage I B, bulky disease. We felt relief once we knew. I had looked up information on lymphoma and found out that Hodgkin's is more treatable than non-Hodgkin's. Dr. McCormick assured us that Missy could be cured because Hodgkin's is so treatable. 

    On October 18, 2002 Missy received her first ABVD chemo treatment. Missy endured 6 cycles  of ABVD chemo treatments, 12 individual treatments in all. (A cycle of ABVD chemotherapy is 4 weeks and consists of 2 treatments of chemo, 2 weeks apart, unless the patient's white count drops and treatment has to be delayed.) Her last ABVD treatment was on Friday, April 11, 2003. Prior to her last treatment, Dr. McCormick had discussed with Missy the option of whether to do radiation treatments or not. Missy chose to have radiation. She said, "I don't want to be sitting here [on this examining table] again a year from now."

    The radiation treatments began on May 21 and ended on June 18, 2003. Missy celebrated her 25th birthday on June 6, during the time of her radiation treatments. She had 20 treatments in all. Before and during her radiation treatments, she worked out at the YMCA in Rome. At first, she could hardly move the treadmill. Before long, she was doing 2 miles a day on a treadmill and swimming in the Y pool. Things appeared to be fine during her checkup. Missy was excited about getting well and having her life get back to normal. She finally had the energy to do the things that she missed doing for so many months.

    As she had planned throughout her chemo treatments, Missy enrolled at Coosa Valley Tech in Rome and started the Fall semester in September 2003, a year past her diagnosis. She planned to get on with her life by pursuing a degree in nursing. She would ease back into school life, by taking only 2 classes at first, anatomy and psychology. She really enjoyed her classes and making new friendships at school, but before long, she began to notice symptoms that later, as she looked back,  were signs of the Hodgkin's rearing its ugly head again. She had some off and on fevers, a skin infection, and some pain in her side. 

    On October 6, she saw Dr. McCormick and told him about her concerns. He told her, "Let's not jump to conclusions. We'll do some tests." For three days, she had tests done. On October 10, when she saw Dr. McCormick again, he had bad news. The Hodgkin's was back. Maybe it had never been gone. He called it "progressive disease." He said that she would need a bone marrow transplant because she had gone through the standard treatment, plus radiation, and the disease had not been stopped. He advised that she go to a medical university hospital setting and that she return home to South Carolina. Missy chose the Medical University of South Carolina Hospital in Charleston, to be nearer her maternal family in her hometown of Sumter, South Carolina and because MUSC is a major cancer center with a good reputation. They have been doing bone marrow transplants since 1987.

    When folks would find out about Missy's illness, many would say something about Hodgkin's being a  "good cancer" to have. Many people say that if you are going to get cancer, you're lucky if it's Hodgkin's. The treatments aren't a piece of cake, but the cure rate for Hodgkin's is high, especially for those diagnosed at Stage I B as Missy was. I suppose that people figure that if you have cancer, Hodgkin's is the one to have because it is treatable. About 85% of the 7,000 or so folks diagnosed with Hodgkin's in the United States each year are "cured." Missy was in the 15% group of folks who need more aggressive treatment. She turned out to be part of an even smaller percentage of Hodgkin's patients needing a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. 

    What everyone  needs to understand is that every cancer diagnosis is difficult, physically and emotionally. There is nothing, nothing at all lucky about having any cancer.  When you say to a Hodgkin's patient, "You're lucky that you have Hodgkin's," it's not something that they need or want to hear.  When someone is diagnosed with a life threatening disease, their whole life changes, as well as the lives of everyone who loves them. Afterwards you, your family, and the friends who stick by you, always think in terms of before the cancer, during the cancer, and how things will be after the cancer. Once it was determined that Missy's disease was progressive, she was Stage III B. The only choice was to have a transplant. She wasn't "lucky" to have Hodgkin's. 

Missy's first visit with her new doctor, Dr. Robert K. Stuart, was on October 28, 2003. Before lunch that day, he had admitted her to the Medical University of South Carolina Hospital.  Initially, Missy's autologous (self donated) stem cell transplant was planned for early January of 2004. Missy became sick with pneumonia so the transplant was delayed and planned again for February. In February, Missy again became sick with pneumonia along with c. dif. and ended up spending 22 days of the 28 days of February in the hospital, 4 of those days in ICU. Next, the transplant was planned for March. Yet another setback occurred, a bacterial infection this time. Finally, the high dose chemo treatments began in April and Missy's stem cell transplant took place on May 4, 2004.

    She ran with the Mustangs,
    soared with the Hawks,
    fought like a Gamecock,
    and flies with the angels.

    On May 19, 2004 at 7:35 A.M., just 15 days after transplant, we lost our beloved Missy to pneumonia. She would have been 26 years old in just 18 days. Battle scarred and valiant, she gently left this world on a beautiful spring morning at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.  Our Carolina Girl turned Hodgkin's Warrior, flew from our lives to become our Carolina Angel.

    "In Carolina or in Georgia, open arms are waiting for you.....
    Carry on, carry on, sweet southern comfort, carry on."

Once dancing,swirling through our lives,
She glides on angel’s wings.

The birds we hear all share her voice,

With the hosts of heaven,she sings.

(Click on the title of the song to hear I Believe.)

"Every now and then, soft as breath upon my skin
I feel you come back again
And it’s like you haven't been gone a moment from my side
Like the tears were never cried
Like the hands of time are holding you and me
And with all my heart I'm sure we’re closer than we ever were
I don't have to hear or see, I've got all the proof I need
There are more than angels watching over me
I believe,  Oh I believe


Now when you die,  your life goes on
It doesn't end here when you're gone
Every soul is filled with light
It never ends if I'm right
Our love can even reach across eternity
I believe,  oh I believe

 Forever,  you're a part of me
Forever,  in the heart of me
I will hold you even longer if I can
Oh the people who don't see the most
See that I believe in ghosts
If that makes me crazy, then I am
‘Cause I believe,  oh I believe 

There are more than angels watching over me

I believe,  oh I believe

 Every now and then,  soft as breathe upon my skin

I feel you come back again

And I believe……"

by  Diamond Rio

    The links following Missy's picture below will take you to my journal containing the story of Missy's valiant battle against Hodgkin's and to my interpretation of information on Hodgkin's Lymphoma and Stem Cell Transplants. You will find many pictures taken at the Medical University of South Carolina, including pictures of Missy's transplant. I hope that seeing what it's all about will help others getting ready to go through the same process. There are also links to other sites with information on Hodgkin's Lymphoma and transplants. 

    The best pieces of advice that I could ever give to anyone, going through something like this are: 

      • educate yourself about the illness 
      • get in touch with others going through the same thing (patients and caregivers)
      • let others help you; you can't do this all alone

    We contacted the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society for literature about Hodgkin's and then about bone marrow transplants. I joined a Hodgkin's list serv, a bone marrow transplant listserv, a caregivers listserv, and I participated in the on-line chat with the bone marrow transplant support organization at http://www.bmtsupport.org as often as possible. The more you know, the less helpless you feel.

    Please sign Missy's guest book, so that we know that you visited Missy's Story. Missy always enjoyed  reading the messages of support from everyone and so do I. Thank you for caring.

    "Each smallest act of kindness reverberates across great distances and spans of time, affecting lives unknown to the one whose generous spirit was the source of this good echo, because kindness is passed on and grows each time it's passed, until a simple courtesy becomes an act of selfless courage years later and far away....."

    from This Momentous Day
    by H.R. White

    Please be aware that I am not a medical professional. You must consult with your own doctor about your prognosis and treatment. The information that you will find on these pages is my interpretation of what I learned in the process of finding out everything that I possibly could about my daughter's illness, condition, and treatment. I do not promise that the pages of information that I have posted are without error. Please let me know about any errors that I have made.

    Cindy Ridgeway Parker
    (Missy's Mother)    
    Sumter, South Carolina

    Survival is not so much about the body,
    but rather it is about the triumph of the human spirit. 
    ~ Danita Vance

    Missy looking at cards from Alice Drive Middle School students.
    A few weeks after initial diagnosis, so she was very thin here.

    October 2002

    Cancer makes a woman out of you. 
    After that you become a warrior. 
    ~ Danita Vance

    My Journal of Missy's Battle
    Join Missy's Team - Light the Night
    Top Fundraising Team for the 2004 Columbia, SC Light the Night Walk
    Newspaper Tribute to Missy

    Hodgkin's Disease Info

    Stem Cell Transplants

    Lymphoma and Transplant Links

    Mothers of Angels, Sumter, South Carolina

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    Missy's  Prayer

    Lord, I have just received the diagnosis of cancer.
    Still my anxious heart as I seek to understand why.
    Teach me to turn my suffering into growth, 
    my fear into faith, my tears into understanding,
    my discouragement into courage, my anger into acceptance, 
    my experience with cancer into my testimony,
    my crisis into a platform on which I can learn to help others.

    God grant that one day I can embrace this time as my friend, and not as my enemy.
    For some, life passes by too quickly.
    Not appreciating the small joys that each day can bring.
    For others, the next morning may seem like an eternity before it's arrival.
    As I sit and think about the value and meaning of my life
    each minute approaches slowly but surely,
    then passes with the blink of an eye.

    Patience is no longer a virtue, but has become a part of my daily routine.
    Time allows for thoughts that would never have before occurred.
    It allows for the mind to open up all that is bottled deep inside.
    Making me see the strength and character in me 
    that I never realized was there.

    I'm trying to reassure myself that better days are yet to come.
    I keep telling myself to believe in a cure, 
    And know that it will someday come true.
    To trust that goal can someday be achieved
    And never doubt the obstacles that life puts me through.

    Knowing that things turn out the best for those
    who make the best of the way things turn out.
    Maybe everyone's destiny is determined at the moment of conception.
    That life's path may already be laid out by One far more Superior than we.

    Maybe the toughest challenges are given to those strong enough to handle them.
    Perhaps this battle I've been chosen for is my challenge in life

    and will help me to become the person that I someday hope to be.

    Weak and battered is my body but strong and determined is my mind.
    Precious are those daily moments that once seemed overly abundant and unimportant.
    The closeness of family and friends is now treasured far more than ever before.

    So with the slow passing of each and every day,
    I wait for my body to become strong again, as it once was.
    I hope that it will someday be as powerful as my mind has already become
    And so I wait patiently, taking on all obstacles and challenges that cross my path
    taking each day of my life one moment at a time.
    It's in the Valleys That I Grow


    This web site was created on December 9, 2003

    It was last updated on July 31, 2009
    (Updated email address.)

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    We do not know why Missy's Her Guestbook  disappeared.

    I have emailed Her Guestbook three times to tell them about the problem.
    We hope that the entries are found.

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