A 19-year-old engaged girl should be thinking about weddings, future husbands and bachelorette parties.
Not Hodgkin's lymphoma, chemotherapy and medical bills.
But that’s what Brittany Fieten of Porterdale is facing.
Fortunately, she’s not facing her disease alone. She has the support of her fiancé, Matthew Arnold. Arnold’s mother, Michele Kennemur-Peterson, a member of the Oxford Police Department, has also been very supportive.
“She tells me everything is going to be okay,” Fieten said. “She’s had people hold fundraisers for me. She’s done a lot.
“It surprises me because I’ve never had that much support, ever,” Fieten said. “I thought my fiancé would have given up by now by not support me, leaving me on my own. But he’s working for both of us.
“It just shows how strong his love for me is,” she said. “He’s there for me no matter what.”
Support from the community
She also has the support of the people of Porterdale, evident in the benefit held earlier this month at the Porterdale Bar and Grill. The fundraiser brought in $740, which the couple hopes will help them move into a new house.
“The one we’re in right now isn’t that great,” Fieten said. “There are roaches. We don’t have transportation. Last year, right after we got our tax return, our timing belt went out and no one seems to be able to fix it. The other car is also having problems.”
Added to that financial pressure, Fieten said her medical bills are outrageous. “I’m probably over $10,000,” she said. Then there’s the cost of “transportation to and from doctor’s appointments and chemo treatments.”
Again, she’s grateful to the support she’s received from her future mother-in-law, her fiancé’s family and the couple’s friends. Someone is always on hand to help take care of the couple’s 21-month-old daughter, Peyton.
Getting the diagnosis
Arnold and Fieten met through Facebook. At the time, she was in Chicago, her hometown, and he was in Porterdale. Arnold traveled to Chicago, where he stayed for three months as the couple got to know one another. A short time later, Fieten came to Porterdale for five months. She moved her permanently after getting pregnant with their daughter.
They had planned on getting married earlier this year, but in May this year, Fieten, who was a waitress at a local Waffle House, got pneumonia. “My neck started swelling up really badly,” she said. “It got worse and worse and worse. They sent me for a biopsy in May, but I didn’t get a cancer diagnosis.”
The swelling didn’t go down, and by August, the doctors decided to do a second biopsy, removing a lymph node. The diagnosis: early Stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She admits she hasn’t done research into what to expect or what it means to have the cancer.
“I honestly don’t know,” she said. “They haven’t told me anything and I’m scared to know what it is.”
She was also scared when she first got the diagnosis, and the doctors told her it was curable. Her fiancé cried, she said. “He thought I was going to die, but we worked through it. I talked him out of [thinking that].
“He’s still scared for me,” she said, “but we’re getting through it slowly. I feel like I have to be strong. This is a test in God’s love for me. So far, I’ve been able to handle it.
“It’s all in His hands,” she added. “I trust whatever He has planned for me.”
Treating Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
A cancer of the lymphatic system — part of the immune system — is one of two common types of cancers of the lymphatic system. As it advances, it affects the immune system and can spread to other organs. Stage IV means the disease has spread to one or more organs outside the lymph system.
While non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is more common, advances in diagnosis and treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma give people with the cancer a chance for a full recovery, depending on the age and sex of the page, and the stage, bulk and subtype. According to the Mayo Clinic, the overall five-year survival rate is 85 percent.
Treatment can include chemotherapy, radiation and stem cell transplant.
Right now, Fieten is being treated with chemotherapy. She will go for treatments once every two weeks for six weeks. She is half way through the 12 rounds. “Hopefully, after chemo, they will test and it will have gone away,” she said. “If not, I may have to go for radiation.”
The treatments, which take two-and-a-half hours each, leave her feeling ill for a week afterwards. Sometimes, she said, it’s hard to get out of bed.
That’s when having the support is invaluable. Friends and family help her take care of her daughter, though, she said, “when I’m feeling energetic, I play with her. When I’m not feeling good, she lays next to me or I tell her to go play with her daddy or whoever is taking care of her.”
Looking forward to a normal life
Arnold and Fieten hope to marry before Christmas, though they both know because of Fieten’s cancer, there won’t be a big party.
“I’m looking forward to just being married and being a normal happy family,” she said. “I’m not looking for anything else. Other than [the cancer], I love my life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.
Fieten has some words of advice on how to treat those with cancer.
“Don’t treat them differently,” she said. “They need your support no matter what. It’s hard. Chemo will ruin part of your days. You weight fluctuates, you lose your hair.
“But,” she added, “all girls who have cancer who lose their hair, are beautiful.”
Kennemur-Peterson has set up a Go Fund Me page for Fieten at https://www.gofundme.com/s7929syc. She offers more information about Fieten’s spirit and fight, the family pulling together and their need for support from the community.