The Kuhn family of Avon have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. This year’s holiday will mark one year Kylea Kuhn has been free of Hodgkin lymphoma. Through her experience, Kylea, along with her parents Mark and Pamela, and sisters Lindsey and Hannah, realize the importance of living life to the fullest.

“It definitely made me more mature and a lot more appreciative of the little things and spending time with family,” Kylea said.

Kylea began feeling sick and tired toward the end of 10th grade in 2018, but she chalked it up to teenage life.

“I didn’t think much of it,” she said of the symptoms. “I thought, oh it’s just school that’s tiring me out.”

In July, a lump under her left arm had grown considerably large.

“I had been questioning her, because I did notice [the lump],” Pamela said. “I didn’t really put it all together until the day we were going out, I really noticed it.”

Two days after Pamela confronted her daughter about the lump, they went to urgent care where a biopsy was done.

“[Medical staff] didn’t really say much of it until they sent me down to the children’s hospital in Minneapolis,” Kylea said.

At the children’s hospital, a bone biopsy was done on her hips and biopsy on a swollen lymph node that was removed from her chest.

“Tests were being done every day, and we were meeting with doctors but they were still not explaining what was going on,” Kylea said.

Two days after returning from the hospital, Pamela received a phone call. The doctor on the other line confirmed the family’s worst fears – Kylea had stage four Hodgkin lymphoma. The cancer spread to Kylea’s bones, liver and spleen. The news brought on a variety of emotions for the entire family.

“I don’t even know how to put it into words,” Pamela said. “I was just mad. I thought, why couldn’t it have been me? I began to fear the worst, but then I recouped and knew that I had to do everything I can for Kylea.”

For Kylea, the diagnosis took a while to settle in.

“I was kind of numb through the whole experience,” she said. “When they told me it was stage four cancer, I didn’t really comprehend it. I really didn’t understand what was happening to me.”

The prognosis, however, looked positive. Hodgkin lymphoma is rare, but more predictable and easier to treat than non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which is more common and largely unpredictable.

Kylea began chemotherapy right away. She was selected to partake in a test study, where a newer, more aggressive chemotherapy drug would be used.

“It was a test study we had to discuss because [medical staff] didn’t know the long-term effects of it,” Pamela said. “They know that it is aggressive and kills cancer cells, but they don’t know what’s going to happen in the long run. We asked Kylea, because it was ultimately her decision. She said, ‘if it’s going to help little kids to not have to go through this, then I want to do the study.’”

Kylea underwent chemotherapy for five months. A port was sewn onto her muscle, twisting to the main artery for treatment to absorb into the body faster. The port was also the site where the drugs were administered. The treatment consisted of five rounds, each in a 21-day cycle, consisting of three nine-hour days and a “push,” which is a quick injection of treatment, on the eighth day.

After the first round of treatment, Kylea developed an infection in her large intestine knowns as typhlitis. Chemotherapy drugs weaken a patient’s immune system, making it harder to fight off infections. Lining of the intestine can become damaged too as a side effect.

Although side effects from the treatment were not as severe in the following rounds, Kylea still ended up in the hospital following each round.

“The treatment she had, it was like clockwork,” Mark said. “All five months, she’d have her chemo, she’d get sick on the 12th day and ended up in the ICU at St. Cloud every month.”

Nevertheless, Kylea and her family remained hopeful. Kylea’s best friend Elaesah Aviles was with her during all of her treatments, and her aunt Barb, who lives five miles from the children’s hospital and is a registered nurse, gave the family a place to stay when Kylea was going through treatments.

Of the whole experience, Kylea said losing her hair was one of the hardest things.

“People don’t really understand how much confidence your hair actually gives you until you’re bald,” Kylea said. “It was definitely a hard part – to say goodbye to hair. Which sounds so silly when going through the whole experience, but it was.”

Support from the community, school, family and medical staff and her own strong will was what kept Kylea going. Kylea was a Make-A-Wish recipient, too. She spent a week in Hawaii with her parents and friend.

Kylea was unable to attend the first semester of her junior year while battling cancer, but fortunately, was able to make up for lost time.

“My school gives health credits, which means if there’s a certain amount of time you are in the hospital, you get a credit for health,” Kylea said.

All of the required classes Kylea needed to have in order to complete her junior year were pushed into one semester.

“The school was very understanding and worked with us and Kylea to make sure she would graduate with her friends,” Pamela said.

Kylea agreed.

“My school’s amazing,” she said. “When I went back to school, I was really nervous to see if people would treat me differently or see me differently now that I had cancer, but everyone was amazing.”

On Thanksgiving Day in 2018, the family received a call from the hospital to inform them Kylea is cancer free.

“There was a lot of rough days, but she toughed it out,” Mark said. 

Although her body is still recovering from intensive chemotherapy treatments, Kylea is back to school and back to work at Subway in Avon. The treatment damaged the left ventricle of Kylea’s heart, so she takes medication to monitor it.

“I just want people to understand my body’s still healing and still processing what happened to it,” she said. “The worst thing was, the littlest things drained so much energy from me. It really made me realize not to take things for granted.”

Looking toward the future, Kylea plans to go to school to be a nurse and give back to those who need it most.

“It’s something I always wanted to do when I was younger and taking care of my grandma,” she said. “But now, I’ve seen how amazing nurses are and what they do, it just strengthens my desire to be one.”

When asked what she is thankful for, Kylea responded, “I’m thankful for my family, friends and life in general. I’m happy with the person I’ve become and where my future is heading. I’m just happy.”