Survivor of Cancer of Unknown Primary Holds Onto Hope

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Editor’s note February 9, 2015: We were saddened to learn that Lisa Delaney passed away January 28, 2015 due to complications from her cancer.

Though Lisa Delaney is a 2-year cancer survivor, she still doesn’t know what type of cancer she has, and neither do her doctors. She has what’s called cancer of unknown primary, which means doctors have found cancer in places it has spread to in her body, but they haven’t figured out where it started. This happens in only a small percentage of cancer diagnoses. When it does happen, treatment is more challenging because the cancer type is what lets the doctor know what treatment to prescribe.

“I’m rare in the world of cancer survivors, so I’m always looking for groups or people to relate to,” said Delaney. “We definitely need more support for people who don’t fit into boxes. We need to find a way to help each other so people who have rare types of cancer don’t feel so isolated.”

Tests and more tests

It all started in March 2012 when Delaney noticed swollen lymph nodes in her groin. After a biopsy showed cancer that had spread to the lymph system, doctors began looking for the cancer’s origin. She saw many specialists and had many tests, including scans, more biopsies, surgery, endoscopies, and many, many blood tests. They found no tumor anywhere in her body.

She began aggressive chemotherapy and even though it made her feel weak and nauseated, her lymph nodes began to shrink and the cancer began to disappear. Delaney says that gave her the hope she needed to keep fighting the disease. “I was told my chances were slim,” said Delaney. “But when treatment began working and working well, my attitude was to get into fighting mode. I said, ‘I am not going to take no for an answer. I am not going down.’” Meanwhile, her family kicked in to help out. Delaney’s husband’s role was to make life as normal as possible for their young daughter. Her father took her to treatments and other appointments.

After 9 months, tests showed she had no more evidence of cancer in her body and she was able to stop treatment. Unfortunately, the cancer returned several months later and she began treatment again. Even though the cancer came back, Delaney held onto the hope she’d found.

“Once we found the treatment to be working, I believed I could beat this. I believed it,” said Delaney. “I don’t fit into a mold. I don’t know what kind of cancer I have. Nothing for me is normal, and that includes how this will end up. I hold onto that and I keep fighting. I’m still here 2 years later. I’m still going strong. This has not been an easy journey, but it continues. I have a 6-year-old daughter that I refuse to let grow up without her mother. I will do everything in my power to fight this until, eventually, someone comes up with something that will help me win it.”

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