Sarah Hornsey: UCLA alumnus' painful journey didn't stop her from pursuing her dreams

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Hornsey Sarah
Sarah Hornsey, cancer survivor

Sarah Hornsey was 19 years of age when the pain began. She didn’t want to worry her family and friends about the spasms she was experiencing in her neck and back, or the night sweats, and occasionally feeling faint, so she didn’t like to talk about her symptoms.

It was a very stressful and exciting time for Sarah. She had just started her freshman year at UCLA in December 2012 when she visited several doctors in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, where she grew up.  They ran every test imaginable and could not determine what was causing her symptoms. The doctors suggested she change her diet and exercise more.

Six months later in June 2013, Sarah still wasn’t feeling any better. By that time, she had developed a cough, lost 15 pounds, and noticed swollen lymph nodes in her neck. She sometimes struggled to go to class, but vowed that she wouldn’t miss school.

Tired of the constant discomfort, she decided to go to the UCLA Arthur Ashe Student Wellness Center, where doctors ordered an X-ray, discovered a mass on her chest, and immediately referred her to a hematologist/oncologist.

“I had a consultation with Dr. Michael Rosove, who was absolutely phenomenal,” Sarah said. “He really put me and my family at ease. He was almost certain it was Hodgkin lymphoma and told me it was one of the most treatable cancers. He said not to be afraid, and he really was a source of comfort and guidance during that difficult period in my life.”

Dr. Rosove ordered a biopsy of a lymph node in Sarah’s neck to determine the diagnosis and what type of treatment was needed. The results were inconclusive, so Dr. Rosove had Sarah see a UCLA surgeon to have a small piece of the main mass in her chest removed.

Sarah Hornsey participated in the Relay for Life fundraiser

“This time the test was conclusive, and they diagnosed me with Hodgkin lymphoma in October 2013,” Sarah said. “I had just turned 20 years old.”

Sarah underwent 12 rounds of chemotherapy, each given every two weeks. Her parents relocated to Los Angeles to help take care of her during this difficult time. She moved out of the UCLA dorms and in with her parents to minimize the risk of infection.

Sarah noticed early on during the treatment process that the pain she had endured for months was finally gone. Unfortunately, she was dealt a new round of symptoms caused by the chemotherapy.

“The side effects were hard. I often felt nauseous and fatigued. I was warned early on that I would lose my hair, but when it happened it was really upsetting. Luckily, I found a place that made beautiful custom wigs,” Sarah said.

Despite feeling sick and trying to cope with the hair loss, Sarah still went to class and was able to maintain a 4.0 GPA until she graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in communications earlier this year.

Three years after treatment, Sarah is still in remission and her prognosis is very good. She has supportive advice for people who question themselves about being sick.

“If you feel that there is something wrong with you, listen to your body and tell your doctor,” Sarah said. “In the beginning I minimized my symptoms and convinced myself that nothing was wrong. But if you feel deep down that you’re really sick, please tell your doctor, so he and his staff can do everything possible to figure out what’s wrong with you.

After graduating from UCLA in 2016, Sarah moved back to the Bay Area and landed a job at Google. She added that she’s never felt better, and owes it all to Dr. Rosove, the oncology nurses, and the staff at UCLA Health.

Sarah Hornsey hiking to the Hollywood Sign in Griffith Park

“Doctor Rosove was right about everything,” Sarah said. “He’s unbelievably kind, and I have the utmost respect for him. The nurses at UCLA are spectacular, especially Nurse Leny, most of the time she started my chemo drip and we would just chat. The nurses’ ability to be positive was exceptional.”

Dr. Rosove said that Sarah’s positive attitude and cheerfulness were inspirational to other patients getting treatments.

In appreciation of the tremendous care provided by UCLA Health, Sarah’s parents decided to pay it forward through philanthropy. They’re now consistent supporters of lymphoma research at UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and hope the funding will help researchers discover even more treatments and help support patients suffering from lymphoma and other cancers.