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Hashtag: cancer sucks PDF Print E-mail
Written by Darci Tomky   

25-year-old endures cancer, loss of brother

For a 25-year-old newlywed, the past five months are not at all what she imagined them to be.

“I feel like I’m too young to have cancer,” said Alexa (Lock) Keathley of Holyoke.

After discovering a swollen lymph node and a mass under her sternum, Keathley learned she had Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

But as she said, she is going to “deal with it and move on,” currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments once every other week for six months.

“If you’re going to have cancer, this is the one you want.” That’s what everyone’s been telling Keathley. Hodgkin’s lymphoma is one of the most curable cancers.

Despite that, “#cancersucks” is a frequent hashtag for posts on Keathley’s Facebook page, with selfies that remind friends that even when cancer sucks, this young woman is staying strong.

Kevin and Alexa Keathley are looking forward to Alexa’s last round of chemotherapy at the end of July after six months of treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  

—Enterprise photo

And this isn’t all Keathley has been dealing with in the last few months. Her brother, Zane Lock, had melanoma, one of the most deadly forms of cancer. At 36 years old, Lock died on Feb. 26.

“If I could, I would have traded places,” said Keathley.

Lock had been treating his cancer for about two years, but in his last two months, “things went south quickly,” said Keathley. “It went from being contained to being everywhere. When I found out it was in his bones, I knew it was bad.”

Keathley said that amidst the initial shock of her own cancer, she was always more worried about her brother.

Her concern also went to her parents, Ron and Cindy Lock of Holyoke. “What are the odds that they would have two kids with cancer?” she asked.

One of the things that has helped Keathley is her strong support system, which she said isn’t a problem around here in this small, tight-knit community.

Keathley has also relied on her husband, Kevin. “It’s like having my best friend around all the time,” she said.

It’s important to “stay strong and keep faith,” said Kevin.

Registered nurse now becomes the patient

Keathley first discovered a swollen lymph node on her neck Dec. 18, 2013. She tried some antibiotics, but those didn’t help.

One week later, she developed a fever while at work on Christmas Day in her position as a registered nurse at Melissa Memorial Hospital.

At the clinic the next day, her lab results seemed a little weird, and the X-ray was suspicious. A CAT scan revealed Keathley had a mass under her sternum near her heart.

That’s when the waiting began. “Not knowing exactly what you have—but knowing you have something—is terrifying,” she said.

On Jan. 23, the lymph node was removed and biopsied. Keathley was told she had Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

She met with her oncologist for a treatment plan, and while Hodgkin’s lymphoma is one of the most curable cancers, Keathley explained doctors still don’t know what causes it.

The tumor was left in, and Keathley said it was not big enough to require radiation, so the plan was to start six months of chemotherapy treatment. Since she has a background in the medical field, it was great that Keathley could easily grasp what her oncologist was talking about during her appointments.

The first item of business was to place a port in her chest where she would get the chemo treatments. Unfortunately, during the procedure on Jan. 30, Keathley’s lung was punctured and later collapsed.

She was in the hospital longer than expected because of this setback, but after a few days with a chest tube, her lung had healed enough for her to go home.

Two days later on Feb. 5, Keathley received her first round of chemo. She has continued every two weeks, with her final treatment scheduled for the last week of July.

Alexa Keathley, at right, is pictured with her brother, Zane Lock, at his wedding in 2010. One month after Keathley discovered she had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Lock died after a battle with melanoma.

For 3-5 hours each time, Keathley is at chemo in Sterling. Her mom is actually the chemo nurse at the hospital in Holyoke, but because of Zane’s passing, she has been in Arkansas where he lived.

Family friends Kim Kingman and Rena Schneller have been great about giving Keathley rides to Sterling, she said.

One good week and one bad week have become the norm for Keathley. The effects of chemo make her very sick, requiring a lot of rest for about five days.

Through all of this, Keathley has continued to work, with the hospital being great about her scheduling conflicts. She is lucky to work 20 hours on a bad week but has a fairly normal schedule during a good week.

Because chemo drastically decreased her immune system, she has to wear a mask around patients at work and she can’t be around contagious people, but other than that, things have remained routine at the hospital.

“It helps if you have a positive attitude,” said Keathley in her advice to other cancer patients and their families. “Be realistic about the situation.”

Keathley has been counting down the days to her last treatment. After that, she will have a scan, which is expected to come out clean, and she will be cancer-free.

While she has embraced a shaved head during her treatment, she is still excited to be able to grow her hair out again and experiment with some of the shorter hairstyles she hasn’t tried before.

Bills have been overwhelming for this 25-year-old, but she knows it could be a lot worse. The insurance coverage has been great so far.

Friend and 2007 HHS classmate Ashley Stroh started an online fundraiser for the Keathleys. “Alexa is the strongest woman I know,” she said on the website. “Every single day I am blown away by the amount of grace she has during this fight. Her strength comes from the Lord, her awesome husband, amazing family and dear friends.”

The fundraiser can be found at (search for Alexa Keathley).

Keathley to walk at Relay

With a new perspective on cancer, Keathley is excited to be a part of this year’s Relay For Life.

She will be walking with the Melissa Memorial Hospital team at the event this weekend, Friday evening to Saturday morning, June 6-7, at the Haxtun Baseball Field.

“It’s a good cause,” she said of the funds raised for the American Cancer Society, noting she thinks they are getting closer to a cure for cancer.

Additionally this weekend, Keathley said her family is having a celebration of life for her brother, Zane Lock, on Saturday, June 7, from 2-4 p.m. at First Baptist Church in Holyoke.

Holyoke Enterprise June 5, 2014