UK HealthCare

‘DanceBlue was a huge light’ – Patient, now UK student, inspired to help heal others

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 2, 2024) — Most high school sophomores begin the school year eager to reconnect with friends, pick back up in their extracurricular activities and begin challenging themselves with new classes. More importantly, they are excited to no longer be a freshman.

Danielle Hendrix was preparing to start her sophomore year at East Jessamine High School in Nicholasville, Kentucky, when she noticed she was feeling more fatigued than usual and sleeping more than she normally did. When she discovered she had lumpy knots on her throat, she knew it was time to see a doctor.

Danielle’s doctor prescribed antibiotics for two weeks. The lumps did not go away during that time, and she had an additional lymph node swell-up. Her doctor decided to refer her to receive scans and biopsies to figure out what was wrong.

On Aug. 14, 2020, Danielle, 15 years old at the time, was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. This cancer diagnosis would cause her to miss being in-person for almost all of her sophomore year of high school.

Hodgkin lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system. After being diagnosed, she started treatment at the DanceBlue Kentucky Children’s Hospital Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Clinic.

“At KCH, we usually see five to seven cases of Hodgkin lymphoma each year. It’s a relatively common diagnosis seen in the adolescent and young adult population,” said Caryn Sorge, M.D., oncologist at the DanceBlue Clinic.

Danielle was admitted as an inpatient for her treatments a few days each month. She fought through four cycles of chemotherapy during her treatment.

“Cancer is a very dark time, and so is treatment,” said Danielle. “DanceBlue was a huge light. The resources that they give you are absolutely amazing, and the environment is very positive for being in such a dark place.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing at the time, the clinic was under restrictions to keep all patients safe. This meant no visitors were allowed in.

“It was definitely hard,” said Danielle. “I stay positive through my friends and having interaction. When that gets taken away, it can be very isolating and cancer treatment can be very lonely already.”

Leaning into music therapy through UK HealthCare’s Integrative Medicine and Health program was one activity that helped her cope with the chemo treatments and feelings of loneliness.

“I’m a musical theatre kid, so during my first session we listened to a lot of musicals,” said Danielle. “Just that alone, being able to connect with someone who has the same interest, can distract you, and it really helps.”

Music therapy was something Danielle hadn’t considered before her time in the DanceBlue Clinic.

“I didn’t think discussing musical theater would help me during my chemo session, but it did,” said Danielle. “It helps with pain management. I'm a very strong believer in the mind and the body being connected. If you're able to keep your mind focused and in a good place, it flows through the rest of you.”

Another challenge she had to face during her fight with cancer was staying on top of her classwork. Courtney Emery, school intervention specialist for the DanceBlue Clinic, was one of Danielle’s supporters making sure she didn’t fall behind in the classroom.

“Danielle is a really high-performing student,” said Emery. “Her treatment was very intense, so I tried to just reassure her that it didn't make her less of a student if she had to drop back a little bit. But she didn't want to give things like her AP classes up.”

She wanted to proceed with challenging herself academically even during her cancer treatments.

“I was an AP student, I took all the hard classes,” said Danielle. “I didn't want to settle down, so I kept my AP and dual credit classes. Courtney and the DanceBlue team were able to help support me in every way.”

Even though at times her schoolwork was challenging, Danielle successfully completed her sophomore year of high school without falling behind.

Danielle’s final treatment at the DanceBlue Clinic was in December 2020. She has been in remission for three years and returns to the clinic for yearly follow-up scans.

“Danielle is a sweet young lady who is also very bright and talented,” said Dr. Sorge. “I’m so proud of her attitude and approach to life and her perseverance to overcome the obstacles that were placed on her path.”

As she was gearing up to graduate high school, she knew she wanted to continue her education and have a college campus experience.

“I never really thought much about attending UK. I always thought I was going to leave and go out of state,” said Danielle. “But the DanceBlue Clinic was definitely something that made me want to come here. I wanted to continue to be involved in DanceBlue from the student aspect. It definitely influenced my decision.”

Danielle officially became a Wildcat at the University of Kentucky at the start of the 2023 fall semester and is studying music at the College of Fine Arts.

As a freshman, she jumped right in becoming involved in various activities the campus has to offer. She’s part of the a capella group Blue Note, where she gets to continue her passion for music and performing. She also has plans to get involved with the DanceBlue student organization.

Her own experience with music therapy inspired Danielle to follow a similar career path. She wants to be able to share hope and strength with pediatric patients in the same way her team did while she was in treatment.

She plans to combine her passions for music and helping others to become a music therapist in a clinical setting.

“It’s really important to me that I give back to pediatric oncology,” said Danielle. “I'm hoping that I can gear towards being in pediatrics in the hospital and work with cancer patients, that's my big goal right now.”

She is an inspiration to all and strives to be a light for anyone going through darkness.

“I just want to show people that you can make it through,” said Danielle. “I want to be that hope for families.”

After being diagnosed, Danielle started her battle under the care of the DanceBlue Kentucky Children’s Hospital Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Clinic. Carter Skaggs | UK Photo
Participating in music therapy was one activity that helped her cope with the chemo treatments and feelings of loneliness. Carter Skaggs | UK Photo
Danielle wants to share hope and strength with pediatric patients in the same way her team did while she was in treatment. Cater Skaggs | UK Photo
Danielle was only 15 years old when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. Her final treatment at the DanceBlue Clinic was in December 2020, and she has now been in remission for three years. Carter Skaggs | UK Photo

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