How Second Opinions and Friendships Saved Dunwoody Woman

Alex Hawkins grew up on the Chattahoochee River in Dunwoody, making memories with her family at the Dunwoody Country Club and worshipping at Dunwoody Baptist Church. In high school, she worked at Dunwoody Animal Medical Center then graduated from Auburn University, choosing to launch her career in Buckhead, setting up an apartment and network of friends. Last October, she reached out to her doctor when she found annoyingly swollen lymph nodes wouldn’t go away.  At 23 years old, Alex was diagnosed with stage 3 non-Hodgkins lymphoma. This active runner and member of the Atlanta community was shocked to learn of her diagnosis – especially when doctors told her she would have a 95 percent of dying if she did not seek treatment within a year. After undergoing chemotherapy, losing her hair and drained of exhaustion, Alex recently learned that she beat cancer and hopes to educate others – especially young people – about lymphoma.  The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society honored Alex at the Big Peach 5K Run/Walk in April. Perimeter North Lifestyle asked Alex to share her story.

PNL Where does your story start?

AH Last year, this time, I was living in Buckhead, working as a solution analyst at the Weather Channel and involved with the community as an active member of the Atlanta Junior League and Women in Technology group. I was always running in Chastain Park, or spending time with my family, friends or boyfriend.

PNL What was the first sign that something might be wrong?

AH I have always been active –rarely slowing down for anything. Ever since I was a kid, I enjoyed running. During my runs, I started to notice that I wasn’t running as far. Around that time, I started having night sweats and losing my appetite. I figured it was just stress.

PNL When did you realize it was something more?

AH In October last year, I noticed a swollen lymph node on my neck. I went to a few doctors but was told it was just abnormal. A friend recommended I try a different hospital, where they took a biopsy and discovered two inflamed lymph nodes. I immediately went into surgery. Right after, lymph nodes in my armpits and groin swelled, and I was diagnosed with stage 3 non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

PNL What did the doctors say?

AH The doctor said I needed to get treatment within a year, or I would have a 95 percent chance of dying. He assured me that my age and activity level should help and that I needed to undergo chemotherapy.

PNL What were your immediate thoughts after the diagnosis?

AH At 23, I was shocked and immediately started researching lymphoma. I found the Light the Night Walk and went the following weekend. I had yet to tell people, but my family went with me. At the event, I met Josh from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, who checked in on me every week.

PNL What happened next?

AH In Dec. 2014, I started chemo. I lost my hair, which was difficult, and bought a wig. I never wore it. It was challenging to go to the store and be bald, but I saw it as an opportunity to meet people and talk about lymphoma. I have two more cycles and a New Orleans trip planned for when it’s over.

PNL How did you get through it?

AH My family, boyfriend and workplace have been an incredible support system. My sister was pregnant throughout the entire time and stood by my side for every appointment. The Atlanta Hawks even hosted a fundraising night, which brought more than 200 people out for the cause.

PNL What would you say to someone who was recently diagnosed with lymphoma?

AH Take a deep breath. I was always organized and in control – the person in the family who everyone went to with their problems. All of a sudden, I was the one who needed help. Be open and honest about how you are feeling. Accept that nothing is perfect and not always in your control.

PNL Has this experienced changed your personal or professional goals? If so, how?

AH I would like to raise awareness of lymphoma and become more involved with children who have cancer. I strongly believe that sharing your story can help others.