Brittany Hickman has lived a story that would not have been possible without the caring attention from a team of providers who acted quickly, caught her condition early, and helped her fight her way through.
Brittany began fertility treatments to help her conceive her own baby, but shortly after, began having gynecological issues. Immediately, she discussed these concerns to her OB/GYN, Dr. David Taylor, of Ochsner Health Center. And though she was young, Dr. Taylor began extreme measures to determine the cause of Brittany’s issues.
Brittany underwent a battery of diagnostic tests and procedures, which resulted in a devastating diagnosis: Cancer. And not just any cancer, but Embryonal Rhabdomyosarcoma, a very rare type of gynecologic cancer that there, to date, has not been much research on.
The big ugly C word that I had always dreaded to hear came to life for me.– Brittany Hickman, upon hearing her cancer diagnosis
It was going to be crucial for Brittany to consult with a specialist on a cancer like this, and thanks to the power and speed of technology at Singing River physicians’ fingertips, the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s only Gynecologic Oncologist, Dr. Mike Finan, was already aware of her diagnosis and poised to jump in and get started.
Dr. Taylor had not heard from Dr. Finan in a long while, but can you guess who Dr. Taylor received a phone call from while in the room with me telling me of my diagnosis? Yep, you guessed it…Dr. Finan. I learned of my diagnosis on a Tuesday and had an appointment to see Dr. Finan that Friday.– Brittany Hickman, on the speed and seamless communication between members of her care team
Dr. Finan wasted no time, ensuring that Brittany would get her PET Scan the week following her appointment with him and a hysterectomy the week after. Although frightened, Brittany remained strong and positive.
Brittany and her entire care team were relieved to find that her pathology results following surgery were “best case scenario.” The team had caught this aggressive cancer very early, and it had not yet spread to her lymph nodes or “taken root” inside her body. Their early catch was nothing short of miraculous, as sarcomas like Brittany’s cancer tend to be fast-growing.
After taking a few months to recover from her hysterectomy, Brittany sought the advice of the world-renowned professionals at MD Anderson in Houston, Texas. They recommended six rounds of a very harsh chemotherapy regimen.
There are no words to describe the fear I had.Brittany Hickman, on beginning chemotherapy treatment
Again, although terrified, Brittany remained unwavering and committed herself to beginning the chemo treatments in the coming months. She did, however, learn that the aggressive course of treatment would most likely leave her ovaries sterilized, and her unable to conceive or carry the baby she had so wanted.
When I had my hysterectomy, Dr. Finan decided to leave my ovaries. That decision stemmed from the fact that I was so young, needed my hormones, and also hopeful that I would be able to use my ovaries to conceive a baby with a surrogate later in life.Brittany Hickman, on decisions made by her care team to support her quality of life
Brittany again consulted with Dr. Finan, who suggested that she had enough time before beginning chemotherapy to harvest her eggs, so that she might have the ability to utilize a surrogate to carry a baby later in life. Brittany enthusiastically took on this challenge, undergoing the process of invitro-fertilization (IVF), and resulting in three stored embryos that hopefully one day realize her and her husband’s dreams of parenthood.
The Battle Begins
At this point, Brittany had already been through so much, but there was more to come. This was when she was really put to the test. Chemotherapy was not kind to Brittany, who experienced neuropathy, passing out, neutropenia, high fevers, dizziness, nausea, etc.
If you google chemotherapy symptoms, I was just marking them off week by week. I lost ten pounds the first week my chemo treatments began; eating was almost unbearable because of the awful taste everything had. Through pneumonia, hospital days, and chemotherapy, I kept on fighting.Brittany Hickman, on her experience during chemotherapy
Brittany leaned on her care team for knowledge, support and understanding. Dr. Finan and his team knew exactly what to warn her about, what to look for, even when to expect her hair to fall out.
There was not a matter of ‘if’ about losing my hair, it was just a matter of ‘when.’ To go from long, beautiful hair to none overnight was frightening to me.Brittany Hickman, on her fears of losing her hair
On the morning that day came, Brittany immediately awoke, called her mom, her husband, and a family photographer.
I asked them all to arrive quickly because it was time. They knew by the call what it was time for. That was the day reality set in.Brittany Hickman, on facing the reality of her diagnosis and treatment
After facing the loss of her hair just two weeks into treatment, Brittany refused to lose heart. Her Singing River care team rallied around her, every member playing their role, from housekeeping and café staff to her nurses, and doctors. Her family remained by her side, encouraging her on the days she felt she could not go on. But she did go on, until the day she found herself surrounding by her support system, from family and friends to Singing River staff, ringing the bell that signified her last chemo treatment.
The joy I felt ringing that bell made every fight suddenly seem worth it. That day marked a new beginning for the rest of my life and completely changed my perspective on life.Brittany Hickman, on ringing the bell signifying her final chemo treatment.
Words of Wisdom
Although difficult, Brittany learned many lessons throughout her battle with cancer and she wants to be sure that those lessons are passed along. We are grateful to have been a part of her journey here at Singing River Health System.
Never take the little things for granted, smile, and always remember that your bad day may be so gracious compared to what others may have going on in their life. If you are currently battling cancer, just keep on fighting. You will soon get to ring that bell; don’t lose hope.Brittany Hickman’s new perspective on life, gained after her fight with cancer