Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor confronts cancer with faith, attitude

Most people don’t look back on their cancer experience with fondness.

But Jacqueline Wallace is not most people.

The 60-year-old from Memphis, Tennessee, is a wife, mother and registered nurse. She’s also a survivor of stage IV diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“I actually enjoyed my time at MD Anderson,” Jacqueline says. “I loved it.”

Facing lymphoma with joy

During her treatment at MD Anderson, Jacqueline treated her trips to Houston as getaways — bringing enough luggage to make her husband look like a bellhop at a ritzy hotel when he unloaded the car.

 “I can’t control that I have cancer, but I can control my attitude, my disposition and my outlook,” Jacqueline says.

That meant making MD Anderson a home away from home. The first thing she did upon arrival was accessorize her hospital room from floor to ceiling: with a red carpet, red pillows and a red throw.

Jacqueline also ignored the diet most nutritionists recommend for cancer patients, instead opting for prime rib and as much dessert as she wanted.

“If this was my lot, then I was going to enjoy it and make it a positive experience,” Jacqueline says.

A B-cell lymphoma diagnosis

Jacqueline was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma in 2015, after noticing a lump in her groin the day before Thanksgiving. She requested an appointment at MD Anderson while she waited for the results of some diagnostic tests.

“I’d already decided if it was lymphoma, I wanted to go to MD Anderson, because that’s the premiere place to go for this type of cancer,” Jacqueline says.

Treatment for B-cell lymphoma

At Jacqueline’s first appointment, Frederick Hagemeister, M.D., confirmed she had B-cell lymphoma. He recommended six cycles of a chemotherapy regimen known as EPOCH-R, which included the drugs Rituximab, Etoposide Phosphate, Prednisone, Vincristine Sulfate, Cyclophosphamide and Doxorubicin Hydrochloride.

And though she lost her hair, Jacqueline insists she never experienced any unpleasant side effects from the chemotherapy. Even the Rituxan — which is infamous for inducing nausea among patients — didn’t faze her. Jacqueline’s nurses watched incredulously as she ate a steak while receiving an infusion of this potent drug.

Ever-present through her treatment was Jacqueline’s red blanket. It represented more than just her favorite color. To Jacqueline, that blanket was a symbol of her faith — a constant reminder to herself and others that she was covered in the blood of Christ.

“My faith is so strong, and it never wavered,” Jacqueline says. “I was never afraid of what I was going through.”

Spreading comfort with red blankets

By the end of February 2016 — just two cycles into her treatment — the tumors that just weeks before had left her chest X-rays looking like a paper shotgun target were gone.

Months later, when Jacqueline’s treatment was over and she showed no evidence of disease, one of her friends called to say she’d been diagnosed with cancer, too. She said, “Jacqueline, I’m going to need a red blanket,” which inspired the Tennessee resident to found a non-profit to provide hope — in the form of red blankets — to other cancer patients.

“Every day you wake up is another opportunity to be a blessing to someone else,” Jacqueline says. “So get out of your head, get out of yourself and do something for somebody else.”

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.