In late March 2011, Betty Legg visited her primary care physician for a rash on her arms that they both believed to be an allergic reaction. None of the treatments her doctor tried cleared the rash, and when swelling began to develop in Legg’s arms, he referred her to a specialist, who performed a biopsy. Legg was admitted into Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on a Friday afternoon in June 2011, after being diagnosed with angioimmunoblastic t-cell lymphoma — a rare, aggressive form of peripheral T-cell lymphoma that only accounts for one to two percent of all non-Hodgkin lymphoma cases in the United States.
“At first, my two girls didn’t handle it real well,” Legg says. “And I told them, ‘This is our path. This is what we have to do.’ My oldest lives in Tampa, Florida, and she came home that summer I was diagnosed. She stayed until her son had to go back into his senior year. My youngest daughter has diabetes real bad, but she did what she could.”
From there, John Hrom, M.D., Legg’s oncologist, set up and explained the initial plan of care, which involved a multi-agent chemotherapy regimen called CHOP (cyclophosphamide, hydroxy doxorubicin, vincristine, and prednisone), given in 21-day cycles, and radiation therapy once a week for three months at the Forrest General Cancer Center. After the treatment, Legg was cancer free for six months; until March 2012, when a PET scan revealed her cancer had returned — this time in her internal organs.
Legg says, “Dr. Hrom told me, ‘Your spleen has enlarged three times its normal size within a week. This is an aggressive cancer, and we’re going to have to get aggressive with it.’” The new treatment plan was 16 weeks of a highly-effective salvage regimen of chemotherapy for patients with relapsing large-cell lymphoma, called Gemox-R. Following the 16 weeks of treatment, Legg was cancer free again for several months before developing tumors in her chest cavity. Legg says, “I was doing chemo, and I’m not sure what else. It got rid of all the tumors, but then came the rash on my skin again.”
The hours of treatment were challenging for Legg, making her feel weak and nauseated most of the time; but Legg says the staff at the Forrest General Cancer Center made all of that a little bit easier. She recalls, “Everyone at the Cancer Center — every one — they’re awesome people. They’re caring. Sometimes when you’re taking chemo, you get cold. All you have to do is say, ‘I need a blanket,’ and they put a heated blanket on you. They always had something to feed you if you got a little hungry. They had big baskets full of juices and snacks that they would bring around. Every one of them are super people; I can’t say enough about them.”
After a series of chemotherapy to get rid of the rash on her skin, Hrom sent Legg to the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, in Birmingham, Alabama, to find out if she was a candidate for a bone marrow transplant. In patients like Legg, who have undergone extensive cancer treatment, a bone marrow transplant replenishes the bone marrow and healthy cells that may have been ravaged by the chemotherapy. If the transplant is successful, the bone marrow will form new blood cells. However, Dr. Hrom cautioned Legg that she might not be a candidate because doctors typically prefer not to perform the procedure on patients over the age of 75. At the time, Legg was 75.
Legg says, “So I went. Everything checked out. My heart, my lungs, and my blood work were all fine, but I had to go back and get one more series of treatments to get rid of the cancer that was left.” Legg went through another series of chemotherapy, and once she went into remission again, Legg was called to Birmingham for the bone marrow transplant — an often difficult and tedious process of harvesting bone marrow for use, and continuing chemotherapy to destroy any abnormal cells. Betty and her husband, Melvin Legg, stayed in Birmingham from December 29, 2013 until March 1, 2014, and during that time, they stumbled into another inevitable problem.
“While we were in Birmingham, we stayed in hotels, and it was expensive,” Legg says. “So I told Dr. Sot, ‘We can’t afford this.’ Paying the bills had already depleted everything we had, and we didn’t have cancer insurance. And he said, ‘You don’t have to go to a hotel; we have Hope Lodge.’”
So for their time in Birmingham, Betty and Melvin Legg lived between the hospital and the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge, which offers cancer patients taking treatments out of town a free place to stay. Through it all, Legg had the support of her husband of 43 years, her family, and her church family.
“And my husband stayed with me. He has been with me every day because he carried me to my treatments back and forth. He went with me to Birmingham. He was always in the chair right beside me, for the whole three months we were there. When we were home, the church family fed us, cleaned my house, did the wash, and helped Melvin mow the yard. We had that really bad freeze while we were away,” Legg says. “Before we left home, we had left a key with our neighbor in case something happened. The ladies in the church went in and cleaned my house, and put dinner in the refrigerator the day we were coming home. There was a pipe that burst in the sink, and they replaced the pipe.”
It is because of the tireless efforts of these people, her support system of family and friends, as well as countless physicians, nurses, and volunteers that Betty Legg is now cancer free, and able to start getting her life and routine back to normal. Legg says, “I’m a walking miracle, and I feel like it. I have been cancer free for 20 months. Praise the Lord.” In October 2014, Legg was cleared to go back to work as a private duty certified nursing assistant; she works 48 hours per week in the homes of her patients.
Legg’s faith, in her medical team and her God, also played a huge part in her perseverance and recovery. She says, “You can search the world over, and you won’t find a better doctor than my oncologist, John Hrom. I knew I was ok because Dr. Hrom told me that your attitude is 98 percent of fighting this battle. And I said, ‘Well, I don’t have to fight it. Jesus has it. He made me. I’ve got this, and He knows how to handle it.’ He gave me Dr. Hrom and the people at the Forrest General Cancer Center to administer the medications that I needed. He blessed them, and Jesus has walked hand in hand with me the whole time.” When asked if she has anything to say to other people fighting a similar battle with cancer, Legg had this to say: “Only that, if you get cancer, it’s a serious disease, and you can’t fight it by yourself.” She continues, “You have to give it to Jesus; let Him handle it. He’ll lead you to the people who are qualified to take care of you. Because ultimately my healing — Dr. Hrom likes to call it my “remission,” but I like to call it my healing — is from Jesus. He brought me through it all. Like everybody who has cancer, I walked through the valley of the shadow of death, and there were days that I would be so weak that I wouldn’t want to move. But He brought me through with the help of my husband, Melvin, and everybody else.”
For more information about Forrest General Cancer Center, visit www.forrestgeneral.com/cancercenter.
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