Hodgkin lymphoma as a young adult: Laura’s story

Laura Garrett

Laura Garrett knows first-hand the importance of advocating for her health. For months after a bout with COVID-19 in August 2022, she didn’t feel quite right. “Everyone I talked to kept telling me it was just long COVID and that I was overreacting. Finally, in December, someone finally listened to me.”

She had lumps on her throat that got bigger over time in addition to a nagging cough and had a persistent feeling that they weren’t just COVID-related symptoms. Despite one doctor laughing at her worries, a throat specialist listened to her concerns and ordered a biopsy. “I was having a hard time breathing in addition to night sweats. My hair was falling out. I didn’t have any energy. I was getting sicker and no one would listen to me. Turns out, I had Hodgkin lymphoma.”

Her specialist sent her to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center the next day for a full battery of tests and exams, confirming the diagnosis. “We pretty much spent the next week and a half at Roswell Park doing all the tests, meeting all the people on my care team,” led by Francisco Hernandez-Ilizaliturri, MD, Director of Lymphoma Research at Roswell Park. “Honestly, it was bittersweet,” she says of the unexpected holiday gift. “It was good that I finally knew what was happening and that I wasn’t crazy, that things were in the direction of getting mended, but it was a different Christmas for me and my family for sure,” she says, noting that her chemotherapy treatment began two days before the holiday.

An expanding circle of support

Laura, now 28, had 12 rounds of chemotherapy treatments over six months, which meant nearly four hours in an infusion chair every other Friday. She was accompanied by her mother, a thyroid cancer survivor, for most treatments, but friends and other relatives took turns keeping her company as well. “It was an unspoken rule but it became pretty apparent pretty quickly that I was not to be at my appointments alone. It was my mom, my dad, some of my best friends who went with me. Someone was always there and making sure they were supporting me. That was really nice.”

Her support circle grew as she went through treatment, with Laura receiving messages from friends she hadn’t heard from in 10 years, gift cards provided by people in her church community and demonstrations of support from surprising places. Unfortunately, she also found that other people faded from her view. “The whole perspective on everything changes. You start to see the world in a different way because everything starts to matter a little differently.”

Laura finished treatment on May 26 and rang the Victory Bell at the Amherst Center, where she had received most of her treatment. Her care team gave her a congratulatory cake and a card signed by everyone. She later rang the Victory Bell in the Roswell Park lobby after a follow-up visit confirmed her cancer was gone. “I knew people usually cheer when it goes off but I hadn’t been in that spotlight yet. I rang the bell and the entire building erupted into applause. My mom and I burst into tears. It was a really good moment.”

“They know why I’m bald”

Laura Garrett had long blond hair before starting chemotherapy.
Before chemotherapy, Laura had long blonde hair.

When Laura started to lose her hair from the chemotherapy, she was directed to the Elevate Salon at Roswell Park through the Young Adult Program, designed to support patients who have aged out of pediatric care but are under the age of 40 and are facing different challenges in their lives. The Young Adult Program Coordinator, Ashley King, took Laura to the salon and helped her pick out head coverings, including a wig and a hat with hair attached. “At first, my big thing was I would rather lose my hair than lose my life, so I kind of decided to accept losing my hair, my eyebrows, everything. I got the wig in case I was uncomfortable, but once I shaved off all my hair, I was uncomfortable in the wig. I was really surprised by that! I’ve always had long blond hair. Turns out, losing my hair was more traumatic than not having hair.”

She’s continued her involvement in the Young Adult Program, participating in a few yoga sessions and finding it helpful to be in a room with people who are all in the same position, dealing with cancer but not letting their diagnosis define them.

“Going to yoga with people that know what I’m going through, they know why I’m bald. They aren’t going to look at me weird. You don’t get the looks of pity or that people don’t know what to say so they look at you funny,” Laura says. “It’s so nice and it’s good to be able to let your guard down, because a lot of the time I’m out there trying to make sure other people are comfortable around me now. When you’re with other patients, it’s like that goes out the window. It doesn’t matter anymore because everyone’s there for the same reason.”

In addition to allowing people to help her and gaining support from other young adults, Laura stresses the importance of advocating for your own health when something isn’t right. “You know your body better than anyone else does, and if you know something doesn’t feel right, don’t give up. Even if people are telling you there’s nothing wrong or suggest it’s all in your head; if you feel in your heart there’s something wrong, you need to push for yourself, advocate for yourself. There will be someone out there who listens to you. The team at Roswell Park were amazing, people were so helpful. There were times during chemo that I needed some answers and everyone was so quick to respond.”


The new Elevate Salon was opened in 2022 thanks to generous donor funding.

Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.