Now that UNLV School of Medicine student Addison “Addy” Guida is once again sitting in her apartment studying for exams with her cats Poppy and Ace by her side, she says that what she’s been through the last few years “almost feels like it was someone else’s life, or that it happened to someone else.”
The truth is, even though the young woman smiling back at her in the mirror today looks like the very picture of good health — this former soccer star and marathoner could easily grace the cover of Women’s Health magazine — Addy Guida ('17 BS Biology) can never forget her two bouts with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes. It was, she said, truly awful.
When October 2016 rolled around, awful wasn’t on her radar. She was in the middle of her last semester of college at UNLV and what she remembers as “the thick of medical school application cycle interview season.” She looked forward to December, where hard-earned honors, from both her scholastic and athletic undergraduate days — she was a star midfielder for the Rebel women’s soccer team — would be part of her graduation. True, she had dealt with a difficult case of mononucleosis during her freshman year of college (doctors said she could be at risk for Hodgkin’s) but that seemed to be just a momentary blip on her journey to a fulfilling life full of purpose. Life was good.
During her senior year, she also was working as a scribe in the emergency department at Sunrise Hospital, doing research in the emergency department at UMC and in the School of Life Sciences at UNLV, tutoring high school students in math and science at Desert Oasis High School, actively participating in a comprehensive community health worker training pilot course offered by an Ackerman Autism Foundation grant, and further serving the community as a founding member in Las Vegas of the Alpha Epsilon Delta Health Preprofessional Honor Society Educational Outreach Committee. Guida seemed to have boundless energy.
In that first week of October 2016, she received an invitation from the UNLV School of Medicine for a Nov. 15 interview, a critical part of the admission process. She saw herself becoming part of the new medical school’s 2017 charter class — and taking a big step toward reaching her goal of becoming an emergency medicine physician. But then, mysteriously, her neck became sore, and her chest had a sharp and ominous pain on the right side. And the young woman who regularly ran 10 to 15 miles a week to train for marathons started becoming short of breath just walking to class on the UNLV campus.
Not long after those symptoms arose, her life changed forever.
She was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the anterior chest and neck. Though doctors said she would have to complete six months of chemotherapy followed by two months of radiation, they also said chances were good she’d probably make a full recovery. Her reaction was understandably one of shock at the cancer diagnosis. “My first thought was, I have my UNLV School of Medicine and New York Medical College interviews in the next few weeks...I’m supposed to graduate in a month and half...this can’t be happening.’
Against her oncologist’s wishes, she insisted on delaying chemotherapy for 10 days so she could attend her UNLV interview. The day after what turned out to be a successful interview — she was formally admitted to the medical school on Dec. 26 — she began the energy-sapping chemo that would leave her weaker than she ever thought possible. It seemed as though when she wasn’t sleeping, she was vomiting. Despite missing three weeks of classes, she still managed to graduate.
Two weeks after finishing her cancer treatment that made her feel “nearly dead in a hospital bed” she began classes in July with the medical school’s charter class. Though she was still recovering from months of treatment, the new challenge agreed with the young woman who sees herself as someone who thrives under pressure. She enjoyed the classes. The future never looked brighter.
That all changed, however, just three months later, in September. “I feel a sharp pang in the same spot on the right side of my chest, and the sensation of a massive semi-truck driving over my chest ensues. Two weeks later, exactly one year after I was initially diagnosed, I was diagnosed with a recurrence. I was told the only option I had was to withdraw from school, pick everything up and move to Houston, Texas, where I would have to receive a bone marrow transplant (at MD Anderson Cancer Center) in order to survive.”
In the more than six months she spent in Texas, she said she was “sick beyond what I understood sick to be.”
“I was 1,500 miles away from everything and everyone I knew, scared beyond comprehension, absolutely devastated. I received months and months of chemotherapy, spent months of stem cell-stimulating injections to boost my counts before harvesting my own stem cell to eventually be transplanted back into me, and then some more chemo on top of that. When admitted for my transplant, an anticipated three-week admission transformed into a hellish two-and-a-half-month admission that included a nearly always fatal liver complication from which my oncologist said in in his 35 years of medicine he had never seen a patient survive. I was brought to the brink, and for whatever reason, my body rallied. MD Anderson truly saved my life. I received what I would call the best care that there is to offer. The overall integration of specialties, health care professionals, and the entire hospital staff as a unit was unparalleled. I truly felt like I was cared for.
“I aspire to give that level of commitment to the people I care for in the future. Anything less is not good enough.”
Slowly but surely Guida’s health improved. She finally was able to come home to Las Vegas in April 2018. That July, she once again began medical school. Now in her second year of school, a year behind her original class, she has been in remission for two years. She still has to see her oncologist and pulmonologist every three months for checkups and go to Houston to receive scans and labs at MD Anderson twice a year.
“I’ve had to deal with some lung complications and a few bouts of pneumonia since returning home from Texas, but I am so fortunate and grateful to say that for all intents and purposes I am currently healthy. I don’t know how I would have come out...if I didn’t have the support of my classmates, faculty, and the internal purpose of a goal of mine.”
Guida said that having dealt with a serious illness and having to undergo intense, long-term treatment undoubtedly will help her become a better physician.
“My experience as a patient taught me, interestingly, patience,” she said. “While working in the hospital prior to getting sick, I would often get annoyed along with my co-workers at a number of patient behaviors — asking for updates on time, asking for more details about side effects and future complications, needing urgent medications. I did not realize even remotely how important those things are to someone who is trying to plan their life around their health issues and is completely dependent on what one person, the physician, tells them.
“That understanding, I know, will undoubtedly help me to relate to patients, help address the needs that I know they’re worried about that are not necessarily on the provider’s list of priorities, and more than anything else, express to them that they’re not alone,” Guida said. “Knowing that there is someone looking out for you like they would look out for themselves is a comfort that is impossible to substitute when you’re fighting for your life. I want to give that to others.”