When her left arm swelled up “like a balloon,” Saray Brown Gonzalez thought she might have overworked it on the job as manager of a large hardware warehouse. However, her Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills physician was immediately suspicious about the cause of the swelling and referred her for an oncology consultation.
Gonzalez, 32 years old, was diagnosed with lymphoblastic non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a fast-growing blood cancer that affects children and adults. Her care team chose from a broad range of treatments to provide the right care. Just 2 weeks after diagnosis, she was receiving chemotherapy in the Woodland Hills Medical Center Oncology Clinic. After about 8 months of chemotherapy, however, over Mother’s Day weekend in 2019, she was rushed to the emergency department, where she recalls the nurses and doctors acting quickly.
“It was ASAP; I wouldn’t have made it through if not for that urgency,” said Gonzalez, who was admitted to Woodland Hills Medical Center and fell into a coma for 3 1/2 weeks.
Her husband and her mother were worried sick. “The nurses were supportive and willing to give that hope for my family,” she said.
Oncology nurse Amber Witherow said: “As oncology nurses, we have the honor and privilege of building a relationship with not just our patients but also their family members because so many of our patients come back for multiple treatments. Walking alongside our patients and their families builds a bond that isn’t replicated in any other area of nursing I’ve seen, and that’s what I love about oncology.”
When Gonzalez awoke from the coma, she needed physical therapy, and her Kaiser Permanente care team transferred her to a nearby facility for a month of acute rehabilitation.
“The nurses, the doctors, and the whole team at Kaiser Permanente do a great job,” said Gonzalez. “They go through a lot. Every case is different, and all the nurses make you feel that you’re that one special patient. You’re their number one. It’s really amazing.”
Gonzalez recalls that Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills hematologist-oncologist David Beard, MD, even brought her a piece of cake on her birthday and sang to her.
“Her optimism and love for her family carried her through her difficult illness and inspired everyone on her care team,” said Dr. Beard.
Gonzalez still goes for physical therapy at Kaiser Permanente. “I stop by, go say ‘hi’ to my nurses,” she said. “I’m very grateful because they were there, and I’m able to see my daughter grow.
Gonzalez is among the more than 70,000 Americans who are diagnosed every year with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It is the eighth most common cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease can be diagnosed at any age, although about half of the cases are found in patients 65 or older. Learn more about non-Hodgkin lymphoma.