In 1996, Laura Colton Tepper, a DLA Piper paralegal, was a seemingly healthy 40-year-old woman. But a colleague commented that Tepper’s neck looked very swollen, so she made an appointment with an internist.
“When I went to the doctor she seemed quite alarmed because all my lymph nodes were swollen,” she said. The doctor ran a battery of tests, and set up a biopsy.
The biopsy showed that at age 40 she had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
She said she found a fabulous oncologist, Dr. Leo Gordon from Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and they began the long road of treatment.
“One of the things I was told when I was first diagnosed was that the average life expectancy for someone with my diagnosis, doing the then-current conventional treatment, was eight years,” she said. “I was single, age 40, and I thought I was healthy, and all of a sudden I get this diagnosis. I just kept thinking that something was going to work.”
A cousin, who was 10 years older than her, was diagnosed with the same disease six years before her and she died 10 months after Tepper was diagnosed.
“I never forgot the day my mother called me to tell me she died,” she said. “It was the end of my hope. Is that what I had to look forward to? She lived six to eight years, which was the average. I was holding onto the idea that I would be on the right side of that bell curve…”
She went through six months of chemotherapy, and the disease came back.
She did another six months of chemotherapy and it again came back.
She participated in a clinical trial, but the disease returned. She then participated in a second clinical trial in 1998, and this time it worked. She’s been in remission ever since.
“The clinical trials opened up, and that was my hope that science and research would find something to either buy me time or a cure,” she said.
After her first round of chemotherapy she got married. She became active in the Lymphoma Research Foundation, and started a Chicago chapter in 2002.
She likes the organization because it raises money for research, acts as an information warehouse, and lobbies politicians for money and support.
On Oct. 6, she received the Ellen Glesby Cohen Leadership Award from the organization for her local efforts.
“Research is making a huge difference and that’s why I’m so passionate about this organization,” she said. “I think they are making a difference.”