How This Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Survivor Defeated Cancer and Blindness
by Kristine Setting Clark, EdD
It’s hard enough to keep up with sports and fitness while raising a six-week-old and three-year-old child. Now, add finding out you have cancer, undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments, going blind, and still teaching.
Right before being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, I had everything I ever wanted in life – a happy marriage, two healthy children, and a job I loved. I was a physical education instructor teaching running, conditioning, and aerobic dance at Santa Rosa Junior College in Northern California.
My bout with cancer has taught me to always go after
what I want, and I have passed on my
wisdom to my children and students.
In June 1977, at 26-years-old, I made an appointment with my doctor because of an annoying cough that would not subside. As a precaution, I was given an X-ray and then proceeded to get dressed to go to work.
However, the X-rays revealed that I had a large mass in my chest that ran from the base of my throat, under both arms, and down to the base of my sternum. I was given the devastating news that I needed to admit myself into the hospital right away, and a biopsy indicated that it was Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Immediately, I started radiation treatments. For the next five months, my life increasingly became a living nightmare with test after test, daily radiation treatments, and then chemotherapy. But through it all, I continued to jog and teach aerobics.
Five times a week, I would bundle up my kids and drive back and forth to the hospital in San Francisco, an hour each way, for radiation treatments. Then, I would teach aerobics at night.
The grueling side effects
The next step was chemotherapy. The chemo treatments caused me to lose my appetite and my weight dropped from 125 pounds to 93 in 11 days.
One morning, I woke up and realized I was beginning to lose vision in my left eye. A week later, I was blind in that eye. I went to doctor after doctor, but they weren’t sure if the blindness was related to the chemo.
When the sun was out, I could see the shadows,
which I used to guide me. But I had to run on a track,
so I wouldn’t get lost. I remained blind for ten months.
Two weeks later, I began to lose vision in my right eye. This really scared me. All I saw were shadows and shapes. I told the doctors that my chemo treatments were to stop immediately.
In spite of it all, I continued to teach aerobics and jog. When the sun was out, I could see the shadows, which I used to guide me. But I had to run on a track, so I wouldn’t get lost. I remained blind for ten months.
The cancer had gone into remission. I finally found a doctor who uncovered the mystery of my blindness. I had an infection, and he was able to save my right eye with steroid eye drops. Within a week, the vision in my right eye had returned to 20/20. It was too late to save my left eye.
In remission and forever changed
Cancer changed my life and made me a stronger person. I hate when people portray cancer victims as courageous and brave. We’re not courageous and brave. We fight because we don’t want to die. It’s that simple!
I have been in remission now for 44 years. My children are in their mid-forties, and I have four grandsons. I went on to receive my master’s and doctorate degrees in education. In 2010, I retired from teaching and administration and now write books on professional football and biographies on Pro Football Hall of Fame members.
My bout with cancer has taught me to always go after what I want, and I have passed on my wisdom to my children and students. I had a poster in my office in the gym that read, “Nothing in life is fair…get used to it or find a way to make it fair!” It’s that defiant spirit that has enabled me to achieve so much.
Dr. Kristine Setting Clark is a University of San Francisco graduate, NFL author, writer, athlete, teacher, and educator. In 1977, Kristine was diagnosed with stage IV Hodgkin lymphoma and was given three months to live. She eventually beat the disease after enduring 10 months of blindness caused by the grueling chemotherapy treatments. In December 2015, she wrote her memoir entitled: Death Was Never An Option! A Humorously Serious Story on Defeating Cancer and Blindness.