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Porcaro persists: DGS senior battles Hodgkin’s Lymphoma

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Sarah Major

More stories from Sarah Major

Issue 5
May 18, 2018
Photo Courtesy of Sydney Antiporek

Photo Courtesy of Sydney Antiporek

The liquid falls slowly, dripping into the IV like an endlessly-beating metronome. It’s chemotherapy that enters DGS senior Olivia Porcaro’s bloodstream, her fourth round of treatment in her ongoing battle with Stage II Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. After this round, she’ll endure one more cycle of chemotherapy before attacking the mass on her lung with intense radiation.

It is something that Porcaro never saw coming. First it was a cough that refused to go away, followed by significant weight loss and fevers. Doctors thought it was anything but a life-threatening disease, initially diagnosing her with a sinus infection.

Porcaro thought it was her asthma flaring up. Her mom thought it could be mononucleosis, which would explain the fevers. It wasn’t until her friend found a lump on Porcaro’s neck while giving her a back massage that more tests were ran.

“I got the chest x-rays back and… there’s not supposed to be a gigantic white thing [a tumor] in the middle of it, and I was like, ‘Is that my heart?’ and he [Porcaro’s doctor] goes, ‘that’s not your heart,’” Porcaro said.

The official diagnosis was Stage II Nodular Lymphocyte Predominant Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Some of the symptoms Porcaro had been experiencing — the fevers and the weight loss — are considered stage B symptoms and are only found in about one of every six cases of NLPHL, according to the Lymphoma Association.

Porcaro, a four-year member of the DGS Marching Mustangs and honors-level student, was suddenly faced with a very literal life-or-death situation. Fortunately, with the right balance of chemotherapy and radiation, Porcaro has about a 90% chance of survival.

Even still, the diagnosis was life-altering for Porcaro’s friends and family. For her best friend, senior Kaelyn Arlt, the diagnosis was particularly impactful.

“Finding out that any child has cancer is never a thing you want to happen, but hearing that your best friend has cancer is absolutely terrifying. I immediately felt as if I had to protect her from some evil force that was going to take her away,” Arlt said.

Porcaro’s mom, Cindy Porcaro, felt practically every negative emotion possible after discovering that her daughter had cancer. For the mother of three, the diagnosis was life-altering.

“I broke down on the floor sobbing when we got home from that first doctor’s appointment. I still can’t wrap my head around it. It doesn’t make sense to me that she has this life-threatening illness, like why? That’s all I think about,” Cindy Porcaro said. “Nothing really matters anymore when your child has cancer. All the little problems around you are meaningless.”

When faced with a crisis as harrowing as cancer, some people begin to imagine every worst-case scenario, fearing that they will lose their lives before they have the chance to truly live it. Porcaro’s biggest fear immediately following her diagnosis was not particularly existential or deeply emotional — in her own words, she just didn’t want to lose her hair.

“I was not even concerned about throwing up, like I can handle that, I don’t care about surgeries. I just didn’t want to be bald because I’m a very feminine person, like I consider myself a girly-girl in most aspects, but I just really didn’t want to lose my hair as a 17 year-old girl. I was like, ‘I’m going to look like a sardine,’” Porcaro said.

Porcaro’s endlessly optimistic, humorous attitude isn’t just a facade — it’s how she’s approaching a diagnosis as serious as cancer. She remains uniquely herself in her fight, often posting pictures on Instagram that present a humorous take on her ongoing treatments.

In one picture, taken shortly after she shaved her head, Porcaro smirks. The caption reads, “Your bitch is bald and boujee,” a reference to Migos’s hit song “Bad and Boujee.”

Following her diagnosis, maintaining a sense of normalcy was something that Porcaro wanted to prioritize, and she’s done just that. She continues to attend school on a lightened schedule as much as possible, only missing class when her treatment or side effects, the most painful of them being mouth sores, impact her schedule. Porcaro has also been able to continue her participation in marching band, a rigorous activity that many consider to be as physically demanding as a sport.

For her, nothing — not even cancer — is bad enough to completely ruin her senior year.

“If you eat healthy and do what you need to do and get a lot of sleep, like I take a nap every day after school when I come home after sixth period, and then [I] get ready for band and eat a nice protein-filled meal, it’s not as bad. There are things you can do to fix every problem that comes along with chemo,” Porcaro said.

According to DGS band director Craig Roselieb, Porcaro’s role in the DGS music program has shifted slightly since her diagnosis, but it’s been a positive change that has greatly impacted her peers.

“She’s the motivational leader of the group [marching band]. If she can be there, no one else has any excuse,” Roselieb said.

Not only has Porcaro had a great impact on members of the marching band, but she’s also been extremely inspiring to those who know her best.

“It is a very moving thing to see her, who is supposed to be struggling the most, staying the steadiest on her feet. It really makes you realize what the important things in life are,” Arlt said.

With Porcaro wrapping up her fourth round of chemo, another round of chemotherapy and radiation lies ahead of her. The hope is that after radiation, the cancer will have been completely removed from her body. Her hair will grow back, and life will return to a state of new normalcy.

“I feel better than I did last spring when I was super sick all the time, because now everything that I’m sick with are just side effects from the treatment and that’s the comforting thing. That even though it’s hurting me, it’s making me better and in about a month and a half I should be able to walk out and say that I’m done and that it’ll never happen again. So that’s what keeps me going through it,” Porcaro said.

Porcaro views her diagnosis as a blessing of sorts. To her, it’s something that has made her a better human being and role model.

“Of course I wish I didn’t have cancer, but I’m glad that a person like me would be chosen to have this experience because it does change your life… I feel like I’ve handled it really well and have set a good example for a lot of people to know that life is okay no matter what comes at you,” Porcaro said. “Kaelyn always tells me that if I am in pain, choose not to suffer, which is what I’ve been living by.”

So it goes, the chemotherapy into the IV connected to Porcaro’s arm, the physical pain present but the suffering nowhere to be found in the hospital room as Porcaro sits, laughing with her best friends, making memories that will stick with her for the rest of her life.

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10 Responses to “Porcaro persists: DGS senior battles Hodgkin’s Lymphoma”

  1. Abbe Murphy on October 12th, 2017 1:13 pm

    Hello! I’m a recent DGN grad and was EIC for the Omega for two years. Sarah, you should be incredibly proud of this piece. I know from personal experience that writing about these tough topics isn’t easy, and you did it extremely well. It is so heartwarming to see the DGS community rallying for a student in a time of need.

  2. Cynthia Porcaro on October 13th, 2017 1:43 pm

    My Girl is a Warrior!!

  3. Virginia Augustein on October 13th, 2017 8:11 pm

    Yes she is! Stay strong Cindy! Praying for Olivia’s full recovery! 🙏

  4. Susan Chanin Gatto on October 13th, 2017 9:33 pm

    Yes she is!!! I am glad I read this, questions I have had are now answered. Your beautiful girl, your family and you are still in my prayers and will remain there ❤️

  5. Lisa Guarino on October 13th, 2017 10:30 pm

    A great example to be followed, She handles herself with grace and beauty!!

  6. Donna Larson on October 16th, 2017 7:18 am

    I was so moved by this. Your daughter and entire family is in my heart and prayers. Best wishes to you all. I hope she is able to experience every wonderful moment that is her senior year. Hugs.

  7. Lynne Wilson on October 13th, 2017 11:16 pm

    I had the pleasure of meeting Olivia in 2013, through her mother who is a childhood friend of mine. She struck me as a respectful, passionate, loving young lady about family, friends and life, she truly is a spiritual young lady. When I found out she was sick, I knew it was some sort of cancer but I didn’t want to pry so I asked her mom if there was anything I could do and she said to pray and that’s what we have done and continue to do on behalf of this light filled beautiful young lady. She has so many gifts to give this world, she is an excellent role model, she is talented, beautiful inside and out and I’m proud to know her. #Jesusisincontroltrustinhim #Jesusgirlforsure

  8. Mary Priola on October 14th, 2017 10:32 am

    What a great article on Olivia. She is my God Child and I am so proud of her for being so strong and having such a great attitude. She certainly is a warrior, Cindy Porcaro. She is blessed to have such wonderful parents too.

  9. Maureen on October 14th, 2017 9:44 pm

    This article takes my breath away! Olivia thrives because she has such a positive spirit and because of the incredible support that she receives from her family and friends. Anthony Rizzo has even reached out to her. I long for the day when this chapter in her life is behind her. I pray for a full recovery. God bless this family!

  10. Addie Kostellic on October 15th, 2017 12:48 am

    Sarah, this article is incredible! I’m so proud of you and your writing talent!

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