We have some encouraging news to share with our News 5 family — after weeks of chemotherapy and nearly a month in the hospital, doctors recently told News 5 reporter Olivia Fecteau that she is in remission.
There is still a long road ahead, but we wanted to acknowledge this important milestone.
How it all started
In mid-September, Olivia initially thought she might have COVID-19. Two negative tests proved that wasn’t it. A trip to urgent care for antibiotics didn’t help either.
“It just felt like something wasn’t right. I felt more than just run down,” Olivia said.
Then came the diagnosis.
“Surreal," she said. "I mean, I think the most surreal thing about it was hearing, ‘You might have cancer.’”
They didn’t know for sure until a week later — a week of waiting in limbo.
The words “you have cancer” take your breath away, they knock you down.
But for Olivia….well, Olivia got right back up.
Immediately, she and her husband Brett started making calls, making appointments — advocating for her health.
“We went to the hospital the day I got diagnosed with cancer, and I was there for three weeks,” Olivia said.
They found a mass in Olivia’s chest measuring bigger than a baseball.
Doctors said it came and grew in a matter of weeks.
The hospital stay meant daily blood work and labs, weekly chemotherapy, and bone marrow biopsies to check the level of cancer in her blood. The treatment is tough.
Dr. Sudipto Mukherjee is one of Olivia’s oncologists at the Cleveland Clinic, where he says they see maybe four or five cases of this specific and aggressive cancer a year.
“It’s really long — one of the longest of any leukemias. It can run anywhere from two to three years,” Mukherjee said.
It’s called T-cell acute lymphoblastic lymphoma slash leukemia.
“When I say rare, the best estimate is you have less than one case per 100,000 in the U.S,” Mukherjee said.
What makes it even more complicated, and often a diagnostic puzzle, is who gets it and how.
“It can strike anyone, and there is no specific known cause that can lead to this cancer. Basically (it's) spontaneous, and it can affect any age group,” he said.
A lot of blood cancers present with non-specific symptoms, so it can be easy to confuse them with flu or viral illness, Mukherjee said.
“So they start with runny nose, sore and scratchy throat, or you have enlarged lymph nodes,” he said. “That has been a problem because (we) can never say with a lot of certainty to our patients, ‘Hey, watch out for this, this could mean lymphoma or leukemia,’ because they all come in so suddenly.”
For Olivia, there will be six to eight months of intensive chemotherapy and then a few years of less aggressive chemo.
Of course, chemo is the word we all know. There are other treatments as well — with unexpected side-effects.
“Honestly, the biggest one is swelling. I expected to feel nauseous, I expected to feel headaches and run down and all of those things have definitely been true,” Olivia said. “My legs were swollen, my arms were swollen, my face is swollen, everything hurts and it’s just getting used to that being my normal right now.”
A little help from some friends
Then came the hair loss. Luckily, New 5’s very own Emily Hamilton has hairdressing skills that pleasantly surprised us all.
“She has made the process of losing hair so much easier by cutting it off for me and she did such a good job!” Olivia said.
It’s that kind of support, from family, friends, the News 5 team, viewers and strangers that make the days bearable.
And Olivia’s positive attitude and mindset — well, that’s special all on its own.
“Not only did she make the best of it, but she made things better for everyone around her, too,” said Olivia’s husband, Brett. “It’s incredible, it’s not surprising — that’s why I married her.”
And most of all, Olivia says she’s grateful to the family and friends who pushed her to get checked out when she didn’t feel well — and hopes that message resonates with everyone.
“Maybe the answer is to go to the doctor and find out if something might be wrong. Find out if there’s blood work they could do or tests they could run, just to make sure everything is OK,” Olivia said. “Because I would never have expected I had a blood cancer at 31 years old.”
The goal now is to cure Olivia’s cancer — yes, cure it.
Mukherjee is optimistic they’ll get there.
“The intent of treatment in her case, and the goal is curative. We are completely involved curing it in her case,” he said.
“They throw the word cure at you, and that hits you like a ton of bricks because it’s not something you ever hear,” Brett said. “Cure is a big word and I think when doctors use it they don’t use it lightly. It’s very purposeful.”
“It is so comforting because you don’t hear the words cancer and cure in the same sentence all that often,” Olivia said. “It’s really good to know we’re in good hands and that they taking care of us and walking us through each of those steps.”
You may have seen members of the News 5 family wearing bright green bracelets — they say #LIVstrong. Because Olivia, you’ve got this — and we’ve got you.
We'll have more on this story tonight on News 5 at 5, and News 5 at 11.