Fifty years ago, Judye Mangus had just become engaged to get married when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer that affects the lymphatic system. Surviving the cancer was a difficult and sometimes heartbreaking journey, but Judye was supported by her doctors, care team and family every step of the way.
Judye’s Cancer Journey
Starting in 1971, Mangus began having problems eating and was losing weight. She was diagnosed as having a “nervous stomach.” After several visits to her doctor in Danville, Va., she was referred to Bowman Gray School of Medicine (Wake Forest University School of Medicine) for a second opinion.
On November 16, 1972, Mangus had exploratory surgery. The diagnosis was Stage IV Hodgkin’s disease (now called Hodgkin’s lymphoma), the most advanced type of this cancer.
Shortly after surgery, Mangus began chemotherapy treatments. “Everything was experimental then, and chemotherapy was just recently available,” she said. “My mother was told if the treatment didn’t work, I probably wouldn’t see March of the next year.”
Mangus survived through March and was married in April 1973. During her outpatient care, she weighed only 85 pounds and lost all her hair. She was so weak that her husband would pick her up and put her in the car for her mother to drive her from Virginia to North Carolina for treatment. After each visit, Mangus experienced extreme sickness and vomiting that would continue for two days.
“The doctors told me because of the drugs I was taking, there was a high chance that if I got pregnant the child would be deformed,” she said. “I took medication to prevent getting pregnant, and that was heartbreaking.”
After her last chemotherapy treatment in 1976, Mangus was able to live a productive life. She and her husband traveled together, enjoyed family gatherings and worked with their church. In 2009, a day before turning 60 years old, Mangus had surgery in Danville, Va., for colon cancer. She had follow-up surgery a year later, and since then, the cancer has been in remission.
Mangus said she has been able to use her experience to talk to cancer patients. “I realized the Lord allowed me to go through cancer so I could use my situation to talk to and support others going through their journeys with cancer,” she said. “Also, there were 12 girls at my church who took me on as their second mother. It has been a blessing to be involved with these children and their lives.”
Judye’s Return Visit
In 2022, Mangus called Patient and Family Relations with a special request. She wanted to tour Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist’s Comprehensive Cancer Center on November 16, 2022, the 50th anniversary of her first cancer surgery. Mangus brought her husband and two brothers with her for a tour and a chance to thank the Cancer Center nurses.
“I feel like I’m a pioneer for treatment, and I was interested to see how far things had progressed,” she said. “Who would have thought in the 1970s that a stage IV cancer patient would survive for 50 years?”
During her visit, Mangus learned about anti-nausea medications now available that make chemotherapy much easier to tolerate. She also learned about the scalp cooling system called DigniCap® that may prevent chemotherapy-induced hair loss for women undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. In 2016, Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center was the first hospital in the nation to offer DigniCap for woman undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. Susan Melin, MD, led clinical trials here for the device.
“It’s very rewarding to see someone who’s back for a visit 50 years later and did well, especially with treatments that were somewhat limited then,” said Bayard Powell, MD, Section Chief, Hematology and Oncology, and Associate Director, Clinical Research, Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“Today, for many patients, we’re able to measure the characteristics of their cancer cells and target their treatment to be specific to their disease,” Powell said. “Immunotherapies, which help drive the patient’s own immune system to help attack the cancer, are also becoming a very common approach to cancer treatment.”
Clinical trials are how we make progress in cancer treatment, Powell said. “We take situations where we have a promising drug, test it to make sure it’s safe, treat patients to determine if it is effective and then compare it to the older treatments. We learn from patients and collect data to help us treat future patients better.”
Mangus’ doctors, care team and family all played a part in helping her survive cancer.
“People who work with cancer patients are important because patients must have energy and enthusiasm to keep pushing forward,” Powell said. “There can be some discouraging days, although with advances in treatment, we have a lot more positive days and good outcomes.”