September is Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Awareness Month
NEWARK, Ohio, September 26, 2016 – When 38-year-old Mandi Schaub started taking classes to become a sonographer at Central Ohio Technical College (COTC) in 2015, she didn't realize the ultrasound equipment she was training on could eventually help save her life.
"I'm so thankful that I was in this class at the time I needed to be," said Schaub. "It made me realize the impact an ultrasound and a trained sonographer can have on your life."
Students enrolled in the Diagnostic Medical Sonography Technology (DMS) program gain hands-on ultrasound experience by performing examinations on each other in a lab setting. Two days before one of the labs this past summer, Schaub was conducting a regular self-breast examination at home and discovered a lump in her breast.
"It was on July 3. It was about the size of a grape at the time," said Schaub. "It wasn't there at the end of May when I had my regular annual appointment, so I knew something was up."
Schaub already had a doctor's appointment scheduled for another issue and talked to the doctor about the lump. The doctor ordered tests. While waiting for the tests, Schaub was participating in the DMS class labs and asked her professor, Melinda Shoen, Ed.D., if her lump could be scanned during the lab.
"In addition to the classroom education, a significant part of the curriculum is hands on. We do the classroom portion, and then we do the scan labs where the students practice scanning each other. So we always have access to ultrasound equipment," said Shoen. "In Mandi's situation, she said she felt something. At that time, we could use that as a learning opportunity."
Schaub worked for 20 years in the medical transcription field. She decided to pursue her DMS degree because technology was phasing out jobs like hers. On this day, Schaub learned the impact her new career field can have on lives.
"I'm not a medical doctor, so I couldn't diagnose what it was," said Shoen. "However, any trained sonographer would recognize that it was something to worry about."
Shoen suggested they scan it again in two days during the next class lab. That's when Shoen's worry increased.
"Typically for breast masses, there are only a handful that are rapidly growing," said Shoen. "A typical breast mass wouldn't change much in two days. Mandi's mass almost doubled in size in two days."
Schaub was able to take the scans from class and show them to her doctor. The class lab ultrasounds helped Schaub make the case to her doctor that she needed to be treated quickly.
"Had we not scanned it in class, we would not have known how aggressive it was," said Schaub.
"Because of her being enrolled in sonography and having those ultrasound scans, her doctor did speed everything up from that point on," said Shoen. "Knowing that it was growing so fast really was key to her quick diagnosis and hopefully outcome. It can take weeks for a patient to see a specialist and have a biopsy. Had she waited, the outcome may have been totally different."
Initially, doctors thought Schaub had breast cancer. However, after many tests, they diagnosed her with a rare form of Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma called Primary Breast Lymphoma. Lymphoma is a group of cancers that begins in the lymphatic system. The function of the lymphatic system is to drain excess tissue fluid called lymph. The lymphatic system also contains blood cells known as lymphocytes, which are important in fighting infection. Lymphoma is the uncontrolled growth of lymphocytes.
"Primary Breast Lymphoma accounts for less than one percent of all Non-Hodgkin's Lymphomas," said Schaub. "The doctors aren't sure exactly what the best approach is to treat it."
September is Lymphoma Awareness month, and Schaub wears a lime green Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma awareness bracelet daily as she battles the disease. Currently, Schaub has chemotherapy treatments every 21 days. After that, there could be radiation treatments every day for four weeks. However, she's not letting the rare form of cancer keep her down. Schaub has a goal. She plans to graduate with her DMS degree from COTC this May.
"I will continue coming to class because I have no other choice. I have a deadline," said Schaub. "I get through with a lot of faith. I spent probably a good week of being really depressed and crying. I was thinking about my son. He's 16. Then I realized I can't live like that. I just get through now with a lot of faith. Everything happens for a reason."
Her classmates have rallied around her to help her meet this goal. In an effort to raise $30,000 to help Schaub with bills, they set up a Go Fund Me account which can be found here: https://www.gofundme.com/2ngf8ua4. The students want Schaub to be able to concentrate on her health and her school work.
"Mandi has always been a strong person. She's always positive. We really are like a big family," said Amanda Gaskins, a DMS classmate. "From the beginning, it was all about support and what we can do to help her fight through it. We wanted to find out what we could do to rally around her."
Schaub is tired from the chemotherapy and has lost her hair. However, she comes to class each day with a ball cap on her head, a lime green lymphoma awareness bracelet on her wrist and a positive attitude in her heart.
"She's still so beautiful. There is such strength in her smile. When she came into class without hair, we all could have fallen apart but because of her strength and her smile, we were able to hold it together and encourage her," said Shoen. "Her positivity and strength not only made it easier for me, but it really made it easier for the students as well. Her determination is inspiring, and I'm looking forward to seeing her cross that finish line when she graduates in May."
Central Ohio Technical College opened in 1971 and is celebrating its 45th anniversary in 2016. COTC is a fully accredited, public college dedicated to providing high-quality, accessible programs of technical education in response to current and emerging employment needs, as well as encouraging the professional development of students, staff, faculty and administrators to assist them in achieving their maximum potential. COTC is the only technical college in Ohio operating four full-service campus locations: Newark, Coshocton, Knox and Pataskala.
Photo: Ultrasound scan taken in class lab of Schaub's growing mass