Diving back in the pool after defeating cancer

Six months out from treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Tahoma High junior Allie Duven is back in the pool, preparing for her senior swim season in the fall.

Six months out from treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Tahoma High junior Allie Duven is back in the pool, preparing for her senior swim season in the fall.

Duven was diagnosed last summer after her doctor noticed swelling in her glands which didn’t respond to a course of antibiotics. When tests came back negative for mononucleosis and all other common causes life became a flurry of appointments and tests for Duven, and the diagnosis of Stage 2B Hodgkin’s lymphoma was made after a lymph node biopsy.

“I’m doing OK,” Duven said of how she feels currently. “It’s just kind of a slow process…getting your strength back and back into school and all that.”

Duven has participated on the Tahoma girls swim team since her freshman year and was voted captain for her junior year but had to sit out the season last fall while she underwent surgery, chemo and radiation. She can’t wait to get back in the pool with her teammates and contribute to the team in the fall and take on the responsibilities of a captain, a role that her teammates once again selected her for.

“I think just getting to participate this year because last year it was kind of a bummer to not be able to help out and actually fulfill my role as captain and help out with that kind of stuff and get to know people,” Duven said. “I’m looking forward to getting back to that.”

After completing treatment in early January Duven has worked toward healing and getting back to normal this winter and spring as well as reaching goals she set for herself like making it up to the mountains to ski this year.

“I went up (to the mountains) I think four times this year,” Duven said. “It was only a few hours long (the first time) but it was still, like, at least I got up and I was able to enjoy something like that.”

Duven’s treatment included four rounds of chemo and 14 days of radiation.

“A lot of people say radiation is the easiest part and I think, I don’t know, it was easier than chemo but it was still kind of tough, it was still every day,” Duven said. “I had a really bad sore throat and my taste buds went away, water tasted really bad and really random things tasted strange, and it (the radiation treatments) smelled really bad which I didn’t really expect.”

This spring Duven concentrated on keeping up with school and staying on track to graduate next year.

“It (school) is good, it’s stressful,” Duven said. “But, I think it’s just managing expectations is the hardest part. Teachers see me come to school and I look fine and my attendance is much more regular…at times I have to check myself and expectations and I have to remind myself and remind teachers that it’s going to take a while. That I’m still recovering.”

Duven had her first follow-up CT scan and barrage of bloodwork as well as other tests like an echo cardiogram in April and much to her relief everything came back clean.

“That was encouraging to know that everything was going the way it was supposed to,” Duven said.

The future prognosis for Duven is excellent, she said that doctors told her there is less than a 5 percent chance of recurrence.

“It was very treatable,” Duven said. “They always say that if you had to get cancer it’s the cancer to get.”

This summer Duven is swimming for Fairwood Swim Team, a Midlakes summer league team.

“It’s going good,” Duven said.

The season kicked off with practice May 21 and dual meets began this week. Duven said she’s looking forward to connecting with old friends who also swim for Fairwood and enjoying the slower pace of life without constant doctor appointments.

Duven is a sprint and middle distance freestyler, focusing on the 50, 100, and 200 yard freestyle events. Duven said the 200 is her favorite event, but she joked, “that depends on the day.”

One of the biggest take aways for Duven through the entire experience of fighting cancer has been the centrality of patience.

“I think it (cancer) teaches you a lot of things and you learn a lot about yourself and others,” Duven said. “I think patience has been a big thing. You have to be patient and know that what you’re doing is going to work and now it’s, like, waiting for hair to grow, being patient with that…being patient with myself, my family being patient with me, being patient with teachers, all those kinds of things — being patient with the recovery.”

Duven also gave credit to her family and friends, for helping her through treatment and healing.

“We’ve all become really close,” Duven said of her family. “We were close before but now we’re really close.”

Duven said she’s become especially close with her sister, Bridget.

“She’s become really protective, she was just a really good helper during treatment,” Duven said. “My parents have been really helpful with corresponding with teachers and managing everything else.”

Before she was diagnosed with cancer Duven was interested in going into the medical field, maybe becoming a pediatrician, and she said that cancer has only made her more determined to pursue medicine and help others.

“At first I just said pediatrician and it was just kind of general a year ago, but then after a year ago I started thinking, ‘What if I worked at Children’s? That would be cool,’” Duven said. “And then I found out I had Hodgkin’s and now I’ve seen all the different little departments or fields you can go into and I’m thinking pediatric oncologist and I think being a nurse practitioner would be really interesting there (at Children’s).”

With an eye on a bright future Duven is looking forward to her senior year and being a normal teenager again while holding on to what her experience with cancer has taught her.

One of her goals for next year is to incorporate the community of cancer patients and survivors into her senior project.

“I would just say that it (cancer) has opened my eyes and given me more empathy and understanding of what other people are going through,” Duven said. “You just never know what someone else is going through because a lot of people — I wore my wig until my hair started coming back and I stopped wearing it right after spring break — and I came back and people didn’t even know that I had had cancer. I thought it was so obvious and I didn’t have any eyebrows and I was like never at school and all this weird stuff. To me it was really obvious, but I think it just shows you that you never know what people are going through, and just everyone has a different situation and it’s important to be aware of that and be patient or understanding.”