CROSSING THE CANCER RUBICON: Lymphoma Survivor uses Humor to Portray Life Before, After Diagnosis

Newspaper article by: P.C. Robinson, Editor
Newspaper: Randolph Reporter
Date:  March 12, 2009

December 15, 2007.  It’s a day Andrea Lynn Katz will remember as sure as she will her wedding anniversary and the days her children were born.

That’s the day that Katz, now 51, learned the gut-wrenching news she had lymphoma, a cancer that attacks the body’s lymphatic system and cannot be cured.

Like most cancer survivors, she had crossed a lifetime Rubicon that signaled the end of life as she knew it before cancer – “BC,” as she puts it – to the one it would be after diagnosis or “AD.”

But don’t think Katz is dwelling on the dark side of life.

In her “BC,” the striking mother of two was a seasoned communications pro, holding various key executive positions in insurance corporations and, most recently, founder and chair of HMH Communications, a strategic communications firm she runs out of her Revere Court home.

AD, however, she is the creator and alter ego of “Chemo KateLynn,” the cancer survivor protagonist of a 96 page illustrated book she hopes will help and inspire other survivors.

“Chemo KateLynn: Humorous Perspectives on Life Before Cancer and After Diagnosis” is all about looking at life differently,” said Katz in a Friday, February 27 interview.

“Before cancer, we think twice more about how we spend our money than how we spend our time.  I want people to realize there is life after cancer,” she said.

Katz said she wrote the book to inspire cancer survivors and to raise awareness of the need for more cancer research, particularly in the area of leukemia and lymphoma.

She also felt the need to express herself through her own voice.  “I spent 25 years helping people craft words and images, now I wanted to craft my own,” she said.

Katz hopes to self-publish the book, illustrated by her cousin, professional artist Brandon Friend, in time for Leukemia and Lymphoma Awareness Month this September.

Proceeds will benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society – Katz sits on the board of the Society’s New Jersey chapter – and the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Blood Clot?

When considered generically, cancer sounds like one big disease.  As the medical experts know, however, it is not, instead coming in scores of names, shapes, stages and sizes.

In Katz’s case, her cancer was diagnosed as follicular lymphoma, a type of cancer that produces abnormal white cells.  Between 20 and 30 percent of all diagnosed NHLs are follicular, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  The disease is considered incurable, although treatments can induce periods of remission.

That she might have the disease was far from Katz’s mind on that December day 15 months ago.  As she recalled, it was late at night, and she had just flown home from a business trip when her left leg became “very swollen.”

Because of her flight, Katz was thinking “blood clot” as her husband, Michael drove her to Morristown Memorial Hospital, where she was injected with a blood thinner and sent home.
But the drug failed to work.  The next night, said Katz, the “leg was bigger.”  There was another trip to the hospital, where a CT scan revealed a mass in her groin, a dreaded telltale symptom of lymphoma.

She said when the physician gave her the diagnosis, her husband “started to cry.”
Katz was too numbed by the news.  But life after such things goes on.  She soon found her emotional footing and started investigating her treatment options.

Eventually, she opted for treatment at the Basking Ridge outpatient branch of the prestigious, New York-based Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Her chemotherapy regiment was R-CHOP, a toxic cocktail of drugs including Rituxan®, cyclophosphamide and doxorubicin, and the steroid prednisone.  Her treatments started in February of 2008 and lasted four months.

The potent combination knocked the cancer out of her system – for six months.  She’s now enduring another round of chemo, this time with different drugs included in the ICE protocol, a regimen of cancer drugs ifosfamide, carboplatin and etoposide.

This regimen, she said, will pave the way for a stem-cell transplant she anticipates she will undergo next month or in May.

According to Katz, her particular type of cancer is slow growing but “it’s acting aggressively, so we’ll treat it in an aggressive manner.”

In the meantime, Katz focuses on the adventures of “Chemo KateLynn.”

“It’s all about life as I see it before and after cancer, in everyday ways, such as shopping, or eating out, or relaxing.”

For example, one chapter shows “Chemo Kate” in a jewelry store eyeing some gorgeous and expensive baubles.  In the “Before Cancer” illustration, she shows procrastination, explained Katz.  But “After Diagnosis,” she’s saying, “They’re gorgeous.  Life’s short.  I’ll take them.”
Katz said her own diagnosis made her appreciate her own mortality and the need to live life to its fullest.

“Life handed me cancer, and I prefer to focus on the “can” rather than the “can’t.”  I want the rest of my life to be about all I can do,” she said.