After Three Cancer Recurrences, an NIH Trial Offers Michelle New Hope

Vibrant, hard-working and goal-oriented, Michelle loves to stay busy. At 21, she was dedicated to building her career and future, working full-time at an insurance company while finishing her studies in commercial engineering in her home country of Ecuador. A cancer diagnosis didn’t fit into her plans.

But when a hard lump reappeared on the side of her neck that couldn’t be explained away by a recent infection, Michelle underwent a CT scan, followed by a biopsy.

“That’s when the dark thoughts started,” she says in Spanish.


Treatments and devastating relapses

Michelle was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer that affects the lymph system and typically responds well to treatment. She started and completed chemotherapy while working and writing her thesis, graduating on schedule. But only a month later, she received the devastating news that her cancer was back.

Despite undergoing increasingly stronger treatments, she relapsed two more times, leaving a bone marrow transplant as her only option. However, the specialized treatment is not available in Ecuador, and getting treated in another country was out of reach due to high costs.

New hope

That’s when one of Michelle’s colleagues told her about the National Institutes of Health. Thanks to the tip, Michelle contacted NIH and was accepted into a groundbreaking, free National Cancer Institute trial that could save her life.

To prepare for and recover from the transplant, Michelle and her mom spent seven months at The Children’s Inn. There, they became part of a supportive and caring community unlike any other. 

Feeling at home

Despite strict pandemic safety measures, Michelle and her mom bonded with other Children’s Inn families. Over boiling pots and sizzling pans, Michelle, her mom and other families exchanged recipes and shared stories—stories that, although their children’s diseases differed, created the basis for lasting friendships.

“The time we spent at The Inn, we felt so good, so comfortable, like being with family,” Michelle says. “What I like best is that you feel at home.”

The best news

Recently, Michelle returned to The Inn to undergo her one-year transplant checkup at NIH.

For the first time, Michelle, now 25, received the news she always hoped to hear: She is cancer-free.

“I’m so grateful,” she says.

Thanks to caring people like you, Michelle and other children and young adults with rare and life-threatening diseases can pursue groundbreaking treatments only available as part of NIH clinical research studies while staying free of charge at The Children’s Inn at NIH.