Celebrating Survivorship: Cassie Morales

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It has been hard to share my cancer journey because I do not know where to start. When I was first diagnosed, I would read the cancer journeys of others and it gave me hope and inspiration. I need to pass it forward. I want to give hope, love and faith to all cancers patients that are in the fight.

I am a 4X lymphoma survivor! Yeah that’s right, four times! Crazy! I was first diagnosed in 2017 after I got married and turned 30 years old. I was so looking forward to buying a house and starting a family but that all changed when cancer entered my life. I had swollen lymph nodes in my neck and a tumor in my chest. A biopsy confirmed I had Hodgkin lymphoma. I could not believe that I had cancer! I just turned 30 years old!

Before I started treatment, I knew I had to act not only to beat this but also to conserve my fertility. I immediately went to a reproductive center, went through egg retrieval and had eggs stored. It was an emotional roller coaster doing that physically and financially. I am so glad I listened to my gut and preserved my eggs because I had no idea my cancer journey was going to be so extensive. After the retrieval, I started chemo that took four months to complete. After I finished treatment, my PET scan still showed the tumor in my chest, but the cancer in my neck was gone.

I went in for three visits to complete an additional biopsy with many complications and finally was diagnosed with Diffuse Large B-Cell lymphoma (DLBCL) which is a sub type of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. I had two different cancers and no idea. That meant more therapy, more chemo and more tears. I started an extremely strong chemotherapy regimen that took 5 rounds, 5 days a week, hooked up 24/7 to chemo.

I could not have done it without the love and support from my husband, dogs, family and friends. After completing treatment, I finally reached remission! Unfortunately, a couple of months later, another biopsy confirmed the DLBCL had returned. I have never in my life felt heartbreak like that. I was completely broken, I felt like I failed myself and everyone around me. Again, I was lifted up with the love and support I received that gave me determination to continue to fight. I entered a clinical trial and had an autologous stem cell transplant. That was a brutal experience for me, but I got through it with love, faith, and strength.

Sadly, three months post stem cell transplant, my scan showed the tumor was back in my chest. I just did not understand why? I had done everything including eating healthy, working out, and doing everything I could possibly do. I was so depressed; I remember my husband and I went on a camping trip after to clear our minds and have some fun before I needed to start treatment again and I just cried the whole time. He took me shopping and I did not want to buy anything because I thought I was going to die and I did not want him to waste money on me. After mourning and accepting it was back, I pulled myself together, and my family and friends lifted me in prayers, and I was ready to fight on.

After another biopsy to confirm it was DLBCL, I was ready to start life-saving CAR T-cell therapy!! My cells where collected and genetically modified to fight my cancer. On August 5th 2019, my new cells were infused, and my recovery and healing journey began. I knew it was going to be a tough journey, but I knew I was going to get through it, I had already been through so much and I was not going to give up.

I am now 10 months post CAR T-cell treatment and I am very much ALIVE and have had clear scans since. Reflecting on my journey, I am so proud of myself and my body. I have been in and out of the hospital more times then I can even count, and I am forever grateful for all the doctors and nurses who were there for me. Sometimes I would think "what did I do wrong?", but its cancer that is the enemy. It chooses whoever it wants. Cancer has changed me and my life forever. I am still trying to figure out what is yet to come, but I am going into life waking up every day grateful for my health and to be alive!

As a survivor, it is especially important to me to help contribute to the fight against blood cancers. I have learned firsthand throughout my journey that not all treatments work for everyone. That’s why I will always help fundraise with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and their mission to find cures for blood cancers and help those battling. Light the Night is such a special night to honor and celebrate blood cancer patients while raising funds to fight against cancer!

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