Swim Star Battles Cancer, Part Two: Preparing for Surgery

Feature by Shoshanna Rutemiller

The following is updated from a Swimming World health feature on high school swimmer and team MVP Esmeralda Perez posted on February 20, 2013. Read the original article here.

PHOENIX, Arizona, April 15. ESMERALDA Perez received some bittersweet news from her doctor in early March. She can finally have the chemotherapy port in her chest removed, but not because the Hodgkin's Lymphoma the high school senior had been battling for over a year has finally disappeared.

“[My doctor] said I could take it out because I'm definitely done with chemo and radiation,” she told Swimming World. “But the size of the tumors in my chest aren't going down like they should.”

Perez's was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in March 2012. The cancer originated in her neck lymph nodes, but had spread down into her chest cavity by the time it was discovered. Perez went through several rounds of chemotherapy and had promising results the first round; she was even able to swim with her club team after several days of recovery between treatments. Unfortunately, she hit a roadblock during the second round of treatment. She would fall ill after treatments and the cancerous tumors slowed their recession. So, Perez's doctor opted to keep her chest port intact and continue to monitor her progress.

At her most recent check-up in March 2013, Perez's doctor said that test results indicated that everything should be normal. But, surprisingly, chest X-rays showed a smattering of tumors still present in her chest.

“They said I could either wait and watch and see what happens or have surgery and remove whatever is left. I didn't want to keep thinking… is it going to come back? I'd rather have it all taken out.”

So Perez opted to have the highly invasive surgery. Surgeons will spread her rib cage to reach tumors deep within her chest cavity. “[The tumors] are behind my bones,” Perez explains. Recovering from the operation means Perez will spend several weeks in the hospital and two to four weeks in bed at home.

“It wasn't the best news, but I'm still glad that [treatments] will be done.”

There is one thing Perez is thrilled about: she finally has the chemotherapy port out of her chest!

“The first thing I said to my doctor (at the check-up) was like, 'Can I get my port out? Because I want to swim!'”

By hospital orders, Perez had to wait two weeks before returning to the pool. But, impatient to get back into the water, she took the dive several days early.

“It felt so weird because the port [used to be] in the middle of my chest,” she said. “It would keep me from taking a deep breath. It was weird finally using all of my lungs!”

Perez is planning to have the final operation after she competes in Masters Nationals (May 9-12) in Indianapolis, IN.

“I like that I'm finally done, that I won't have to worry about it anymore,” she said. “There is still a chance that [the cancer] will come back, and I also have a higher chance of breast cancer, but the doctor said that it's nothing to worry about.”

Instead, Perez is looking forward to starting college in the fall, when she'll be swimming for Division III Carthage College.

“I'm so excited. I'm getting all of those letters to finalize things!”

Esmerelda Perez is currently on a Make-a-Wish trip in Hawaii with her family.

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