Saturday, May 18, 2013

Cancer Survivor Turns 21-Years-Old After 19-Year Remission

         It was a scene similar to that of a sci-fi movie. Kyla Fetzner, of Manchester, N.H., had five chest tubes spilling out of her body to relieve excess fluid brought by the tumor. Numerous nights were spent in the Intensive Care Unit, where Kyla laid in bed number four. The husband of another child walked out of the ICU and into the waiting room.

         Unbeknownst to the man, Kyla’s parents were also sitting in the waiting room. “I feel so bad for the child in bed four,” the man said to his wife. “They’re dying.”

         The Fetzners were then displaced into another room. Lee, Kyla’s father, fell to his knees in tears. “We’re losing our girl,” he said to Kristen.

         Kyla’s family considers her a miracle. She has been cancer free for over 19 years, and her faith has helped her understand the meaning of a purposeful life. Fetzner turned 21 on March 1 this year, and she will stop at nothing to tell her story while helping others along the way.

         She believes her life is defined by the Bible verse, Jeremiah 29:11, which reads: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

         On March 1, 1992, Kyla Mary Fetzner was born to Kristen and Lee Fetzner. The labor only took two hours, and Kyla was perfectly healthy. On Friday, May 28, 1993, however, Kristen observed that Kyla was lethargic. On the following Monday, the Fetzners brought their bundle of joy to their doctor, where their lives would change forever.

         At 15-months-old, doctors diagnosed Fetzner with a large neuroblastoma mass growing in her chest, wrapped around her spinal column and displacing her internal organs. Fetzner was at Boston Children’s Hospital for two and a half months, and her medical costs were more than $750,000.

         According to the National Cancer Institute, neuroblastoma is a cancer that arises in immature nerve cells, affecting mostly infants and children. The disorder, consisting of a large malignant tumor, occurs in approximately 1 out of 100,000 children.

         “I use my cancer survival for encouragement to other people,” Fetzner said. Fetzner’s grandparents died from cancer when her father was very young, and she never got to meet them. “Some people don’t make it out alive at the end, and it makes me want to live an even fuller life for those people, too.”

         Fetzner was always exposed to sick children from a very young age when she had to frequently visit the Boston Children’s Hospital and the Jimmy Fund Clinic at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute for tests and check ups. Fetzner’s peers also misunderstood her. When she was about four years old, one little girl in her neighborhood, named Kea, told Fetzner that because she had cancer, she was going to die.

         At a young age, Kyla was somewhat sheltered by her parents due to her tragic experience. She knew she was different, and she was not afraid to tell other children about her miraculous story.

         However, Kyla learned to cope through academic excellence. She transcended her way through elementary school, middle school, and high school with mostly all A’s while participating in cheerleading and extra curricular activities. She also made a lot of friends.

         Kristen Fetzner, Kyla’s mother, recounted her traumatic experience while her baby girl was in the hospital. “We were there 72 nights straight in the hospital without coming home,” said Fetzner, “and I saw 23 children die.” The survival rate for Kyla’s type of cancer was only 30%.

         Six months prior to her surgery, Kyla had four intravenous chemotherapy treatments. The doctors warned that permanent damage could result from the chemo: hearing loss, learning disabilities, leukemia, and stunted growth and development. Fortunately, Kyla was not affected by any of these effects, and she did not vomit once – a very common side effect.

         On July 22, 1993, Kyla had open heart surgery to remove the grapefruit-sized mass wrapped around her spinal cord. “The doctors were more concerned about Kyla surviving the surgery than the cancer at this point,” Kristen said.

         During the procedure, Kristen went into the hospital bathroom and shut the door behind her. She kneeled and began to pray for her daughter's life. Moments later, Fetzner felt a pressure on her shoulder, like that of a hand. She turned around and nothing was there. Fetzner left the bathroom and fell asleep on the couch of the waiting room for a few hours. She finally had the peace she needed.

         “I believe I was truly touched by an angel,” Fetzner said. “I literally felt that pressure on my shoulder, and after that, I had such a feeling of peace and calmness.”

         Kristen remembered when people came to visit at the hospital, she needed to know they were praying for her daughter. “It gave me peace, because that’s all you could do,” Fetzner said. “I always said ‘faith, family, and friends,’ and that’s what got us through.”

         The seven hour surgery was successful, and the entire cancerous mass was removed. The procedure left Fetzner with a very long and thinly-faded scar from the left portion of her rib cage to her back.

         Kyla was officially declared cancer free on November 21, 1993. “I remember in 1998, when it was the five year mark, it was a huge deal.” Kyla said. “I was on the radio station, and they interviewed me.” Fetzner’s parents gave her a commemorative plaque, and her aunt gave her a bracelet engraved with the words, Miracle Child.

         Only local newspapers covered Kyla’s story. On August 5, 1993, the Nashua Telegraph published an advertisement to raise awareness and fundraise for the excessive medical costs. The event, a pig roast, raised $5,000 for the Kyla Mary Fetzner Medical Fund. Kristen personally wrote each donator a thank-you letter. In every envelope, she included a picture of her cancer-free daughter. “It was the kindness of strangers,” Kristen said.

         In addition to chemotherapy and surgery, Fetzner continued to be poked and prodded throughout her childhood than most people are in a lifetime. She had several bone marrow biopsies, hundreds of x-rays, blood tests, MRI’s, bone scans, and CT scans during her remission.

         “I went through every emotion,” Kristen said. “It’s a roller coaster ride.” Kristen was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after going through Kyla’s treatment. “If I go to a hospital today, I get anxious. [The experience] never leaves you.” Kristen was only 24 when Kyla was diagnosed, and she believes the experience brought her whole family closer.

         “There was good that came out of Kyla’s having cancer,” said Kristen, “because she has taught us to live one day at a time and enjoy every moment we are given.” Fetzner knew that her daughter was a gift from God, and she wanted to raise her as He saw fit. “And so when she got sick, [faith] got us through,” Fetzner said.

         “We still celebrate my remission day as a victory every year,” Kyla said. “To me, that day is bigger than my birthday.” Fetzner volunteered at a cancer center in Manchester, N.H. from 2008 to 2010, because she wanted to encourage people who were fighting cancer at the time. She spent some special moments with cancer patients while sharing her story and learning theirs.

         Faith is a significant part of Fetzner’s post-cancerous life. “I think I was spared, because God’s plan for my life wasn’t over, and God had great things planned for my life that hadn’t been done yet,” Fetzner said.

         Kristen recounts telling her healthy, three-year-old daughter to say, “Grace” before their meal. Kyla eagerly responded with, “Dear Jesus, I was cancered, and you made me better. Amen.”

         Kyla currently uses her experiences to have a positive outlook in life. She currently serves at her church and works with the youth ministry to inspire middle schoolers. “I want to have as many experiences as I can in my life,” Fetzner said.

         Melissa Myers, a junior at the University of Connecticut, and a high school friend of Fetzner, was struggling with her own faith. “I realized what Kyla had that I didn’t was a relationship with God,” Myers said. “Kyla enjoys the little things in life and is always happy.”

         Myers believes Fetzner is a genuinely good person who means well. “Once you believe in God, you see everything differently,” said Myers, “and now I know for a fact that God put Kyla in my life not only as a great friend, but to bring me closer to Him.”

         Fetzner said she never looks for sympathy from people, and she uses her survival to encourage others. “Having cancer has enriched my life,” Fetzner said. “It makes me feel strong and brings me closer to God.”

         “If she didn't survive, I would have never known what it’s like to have a sibling,” said Cameron, Fetzner’s 17-year-old brother. “Kyla has been a great role model to me, and if she didn't survive, I would have never had that.”

         Kyla’s epithets are “smiley” and “sunshine” in accordance to her bubbly and cheery personality.

         “She is our miracle,” Kristen said.

College Students Illegally Taking Adderall – Is it Cheating?

         Jessica Nichols, a UNH senior majoring in economics, frequently used Adderall during her sophomore year to get as much accounting homework as she could in the Dimond Library.

         Nichols would take Adderall at least three times per week. She would also take it before tests and pull all-nighters to get as much last minute studying in as her brain could handle.

         But, can taking an enhancing, “study-drug” possibly be cheating? Both UNH students and faculty alike meet Adderall consumption by the non-prescribed with mixed views.

         Overall, the university does not consider taking Adderall as academic dishonesty, albeit taking Adderall without a prescription and selling the drug to those without a prescription are both criminal offenses. However, there are still some students who think non-prescribed Adderall users, not diagnosed with A.D.D., have an unfair advantage.

         For instance, Nichols was not prescribed Adderall, and she purchased it from students to excel in challenging and demanding courses. “I was nervous to go to Health Services to ask about the drug,” Nichols said, “because I heard cases of kids trying to fake their A.D.D. [to get an Adderall prescription.]”

         Nichols reported that Adderall made her shaky, focused, and extremely productive. But, she started to notice side-effects, such as increased heart rate, loss of appetite, anxiety, and paranoia.  “I told myself I needed to stop,” she said. “The effects started to scare me.”

         At the beginning of Nichols’ senior year, she talked to a doctor at Health Services and was prescribed Vyvance – a drug similar to Adderall. However, Nichols later decided that she did not want to pick up her first legal prescription.

         Nichols did not want to be dependent on drugs of any kind. Instead, she wanted to challenge herself by creating healthy study habits. Nichols made the Dean’s List last semester without the aid of any “study drugs.” To Nichols, her accomplishment felt a lot more rewarding. “[Adderall] gives people an excuse to procrastinate their schoolwork, which won’t be useful in the real world,” Nichols said.

         Nichols never thought of Adderall as academic dishonesty, because it was not like taking notes into a test or “Googling” answers. “It was just a way to force myself to study,” Nichols said. “It was more of a personal dishonesty with myself. I wouldn’t feel as good about a good grade when I knew I had the help of a pill.”

         Megan Morris, a former student at UNH, is currently a registered nurse at Manchester’s Elliot Hospital. According to Morris, she knew many students who used Adderall to cram for finals when she attended school in Durham.

         “I know a couple of nursing majors who would use it if they had a lot of school work to do,” Morris said. “They would take it and spend all day in the library.” Morris assured taking Adderall made her friends very focused, so they could get their heavy workload done.

         Adderall is part of the amphetamine drug class. It is considered a level II controlled substance, where levels range from I as the most restrictive to IV as the least restrictive.

         According to a case-study from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, illegal Adderall use is highest among college students in the northeastern portion of the U.S. A 2010 60 Minutes segment dubbed the study drug as a “neuro-enhacement.”

         Chelsea Cahill, a senior nursing major, thinks non-prescribed students taking Adderall could be considered cheating. “For me, trying to focus on something is half the battle, and when others use a substance that’s illegal to get an edge, it’s certainly frustrating,” Cahill said.

         Cahill asserts that Adderall is like any other resource that is not available to students to get better grades. “With the pressure students are under to have the highest G.P.A. possible, whether it be for scholarships, internships or job opportunities, it is important to have the playing field be even,” Cahill said.

         Cahill feels that those who abuse Adderall without having A.D.D. or A.D.H.D. also have an unfair advantage over others. “Those who do have a diagnosis of A.D.D. take Adderall so that they can have the same opportunity to focus as others, since their medical condition prevents that,” Cahill said.

         Robyn Keriazes, a senior dual-majoring in journalism and international affairs, thinks the Adderall debate is a tough one. “I do think that abusing prescription drugs should be punished by law,” Keriazes said, “but I don’t necessarily think it should be considered cheating on top of that.”

         Keriazes has never felt she has not done well enough on an exam because she lacks the effects of Adderall. She believes the best way to succeed in school is continuous hard work. “I don’t feel as if I’m at a major disadvantage,” Keriazes said.

         Additionally, Keriazes thinks if the school sets a policy that makes Adderall use cheating, there are many other drugs that could also be included, like legal substances such as energy drinks which keep students awake to study. “It would be a complicated policy to put in place,” Keriazes said.

         Nicole Annis, also a senior nursing major, reports that students who abuse Adderall are putting their health at risk. “I think using Adderall unprescribed to study is dangerous, never mind illegal” Annis said. “Unless you have been advised of the side effects, interactions, and adverse effects by a doctor or nurse, one taking Adderall is unlikely to be adequately informed.”

         According to Annis, students may unknowingly put themselves at risk for overdose or serious effects. The FDA reports that common side effects for Adderall users are headache, decreased appetite, nervousness, mood swings, weight loss, and a sped up heart rate. Other serious side effects that can occur include slowed growth in children, seizures, eyesight changes, addiction, suicidal thoughts, and even death.

         Hilary Croteau, a junior English teaching major, does not use Adderall. “I think it’s idiotic to take any type of drug that isn’t prescribed to you, because there can be serious negative consequences,” Croteau said, “but I don’t think it’s cheating.”

         Leena Boretos, a senior English literature major, does not recommend that people take unprescribed medications, especially in the case of strong or dangerous drugs, such as Adderall. “I don’t think that it’s fair for people to try and get an extra boost when they haven’t been diagnosed with A.D.H.D. or A.D.D. and ‘need’ it,” Boretos said.

         Boretos is diagnosed with A.D.H.D., and she is prescribed Adderall. However, she does not take it everyday. “It’s a learning process on how to function without its aid,” Boretos said. “I think that the larger issue is the academic environment where students and teachers aren’t effectively communicating on stress levels of work.”

         Stephanie Harzewski is an English lecturer at UNH who has vaguely heard of Adderall, but was not sure for what it was used.

         “People have taken herbs for memory for years; I don’t know if it is all that different form taking Ginko Biloba and B-vitamins, let alone one of those 5-hour energy shots,” Harzewski wrote via email.

         “A painting class is likely different from an organic chemistry class in terms of what parts of the brain and skills are involved, so even then ‘cheating’ may be hard to define,” Harzewski said. “If someone wants to enhance the way they learn and process information, I’m not going to stop them.”

         Davida Margolin is a general microbiology education professor who is aware students and others take drugs that are not prescribed to them. “Often they cite they are using these drugs to help with studies, but there are times too when they use them moreover as ‘recreational’ drugs,” Margolin said.

         Margolin said she would do anything and everything in her power to help students do well in her class. “Inherently everyone knows taking drugs that are not prescribed is wrong,” Margolin said. “Berating someone who wants my help won’t help.”

         Margolin thinks there needs to be some repercussions for students using Adderall illegally. “Kids will be kids and most will turn out just fine, but there are deleterious risks associated with drug use and abuse,” Margolin said.

         Additionally, Margolin used the metaphor that taking the drug may just make it easier to access parts of a student's brain that may often feel like it is smothered in cobwebs.

         Andrew Leber, an assistant professor of psychology at UNH and Ohio State University, is also aware of illegal usage of Adderall. “I am concerned that individuals using it without a prescription, and thus without the guidance of a medical professional, are unaware of the purpose of the drug and uneducated about safe dosages and potentially dangerous side-effects,” Leber said.

         Leber sees the clear parallel to using Adderall as a study drug to performance enhancing drugs in sports competition. Although, he thinks there are many important questions to be further investigated before universities penalize non-prescribed users for taking it, such as if students lie to their doctor to get a prescription.

         According to Leber, Jill McGaughy, a psychology professor at UNH, does research on adolescent rats with A.D.H.D. and compares them to healthy controls. Based on her findings, McGaughy has argued that A.D.H.D drugs, such as Strattera, do help subjects with A.D.H.D. improve their impaired performance.

         However, the drug does not further benefit individuals whose baseline performance is not impaired. “So, beyond any placebo effects that students experience, it’s theoretically possible that the drugs don’t help those who don’t really need them,” Leber said.

         According to Chief Paul Dean of the UNH Police Department, Aderall is most commonly abused by taking it with alcohol to enhance the effect. “This has been a trend with the abuse of many prescription drugs,” Chief Dean said.

         Ultimately, students who take Adderall without a prescription expose themselves to dismissal form UNH. Moreover, UNH’s Office of Conduct and Mediation did not respond for comment on the issue of reprimanding non-prescribed students who abuse Adderall.

         A UNH junior, who has been a Resident Assistant at UNH for two years and wanted to remain anonymous, asserted that punishing those who take Adderall is almost impossible. “Popping a pill isn’t something you can see as much as smelling weed or seeing drunk students,” the R.A. said.

         Procedures to reprimand students doing drugs in dorms, such as marijuana, drinking underage, and so forth include notifying UNH Dispatch, a subsidiary of the UNH Police Department, as well as the hall director. “The important thing is that [students] are being safe and responsible, and that’s what we worry about,” the student said.

         An article on states that college administrators are worried about the abuse of stimulants on their campuses. Reducing drug abuse is almost impossible, since there are no signs when students are taking the drugs. Furthermore, The Washington Post’s “College students take ADHD drugs for better grades,” published in September 2011, reported colleges are instead preoccupied with raising awareness on alcohol and illegal drug abuse.

         According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy from the Executive Office of the President, non-prescribed college students who illegally use stimulants have a lower grade point average than most students who do not use stimulants. Additionally, stimulant users are more likely to drink more, use other forms of illicit drugs, regularly skip class, and study less.

         “Perhaps people’s issues with focus are due to technology,” Nichols said. “People are constantly texting, chatting on Facebook, and finding something fun to do while procrastinating rather than getting their head in the books. That was half of my problem as well.”