Crystal Cope

My name is Crystal Cope. I am 34 years old and I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in August 2020

I never thought something as minor and silly as itchy skin could be a symptom of cancer. That was the only symptom I had for a year. It was persistent itchy skin that doctors couldn’t find the source of. They prescribed allergy testing, food elimination diets, blood testing for specific disorders, and not to mention the dozens of bottles, tubes, and tubs of various ointments, creams, and lotions that never helped. It was mind-boggling. Still, cancer never crossed my mind.

Then, one day I noticed a lump on my neck and made another doctor’s appointment.

That lump finally gave me the answer I’d been desperately seeking for my itchy skin, but now, I just wanted to unhear it and go back to worrying about which cream to use today. Instead, I was being force-fed information about oncologist referrals and treatment plans.

My itchy skin had been a side effect of cancer all along.

My initial treatment plan didn’t include radiation- proton or traditional. I endured 5 months of chemotherapy and then my scans came back with no evidence of cancer. I was done, I rang the bell. But then, my oncologist dropped a bomb- she highly recommended radiation to 3 areas of my body to lower the chances of cancer cells being left behind. She referred me to a radiation oncologist and set up an appointment.

I didn’t even show up to the consultation. I kept telling myself and my family “my scans are clear, why would I put myself at high risk for secondary cancers by doing radiation”? After several calls from the concerned radiation department about my missed appointments, I finally agreed to go in for just a consultation. That’s where I met Dr. Prabhu. She was just wonderful, informative yet comforting. I came to the appointment ready to defend my decision, and expecting a debate. To my surprise, Dr. Prabhu agreed with my decision. Traditional radiation would leave me at a higher risk for lung and breast cancer. She recommended proton therapy to precisely pinpoint proton radiation only to the targeted area. The statistics blew me away; it was obviously a much safer option. The side effects are minimal, so I could continue recovering from chemotherapy while still receiving daily treatment. To me, it was my only option.

The staff at Oklahoma Proton Center treated me like family and I was in loving, caring hands through the entire process. I completed my treatment during the COVID pandemic, so my family wasn’t allowed to accompany me.

I never felt alone though, I really needed that.

By sharing my story I hope it encourages others to listen to their bodies and trust their instincts. I have a family history of lung cancer and I’m a former smoker. Traditional radiation would have highly increased my secondary cancer risk, specifically lung cancer. Proton therapy was the much safer option. Listen to your doctors but let your instincts speak too.

Don’t be a hero. Don’t even try. Accept the help being offered and ask for help when you need it.

This is important to me because I was trying to do it all. Work full time, be the best mom in the world, a good wife, keep the house clean, on top of cancer treatments and doctor’s appointments. It will only make you feel worse in more ways than one. Don’t be a hero.

Before being diagnosed with cancer, I didn’t think much about the future. I had hopes and dreams like most of us do but no real plans. I was just hoping for the best. Today, my husband and I are putting in the work and effort to make our lives great, today and for tomorrow.

It’s kind of like proton therapy, I’m ensuring our happiness instead of just hoping for the best.