LA CRESCENTA -- Healthy 26-year-olds aren’t supposed to get cancer --
at least, that’s what Amanda Chatem thought. So when she noticed a lump
on her neck last summer, she just figured it was some sort of infection.
“I kept telling her to go to the doctor,” mother Sally Huddleston
But it wasn’t that easy for Chatem. She was working two part-time jobs
as a waitress and a substitute teacher at Crescenta Valley High School at
the time. Neither job provided health insurance.
Finally in September, Chatem was hired on full time as an English
teacher at Crescenta Valley High. The first thing she did was arrange to
see a doctor.
The appointment was on a Friday morning. That night, the doctor called
Chatem at her home requesting to see her first thing the following
Monday. After she hung up the phone with the doctor, Chatem called her
mother, who also works at Crescenta Valley High.
“When she told me what the doctor had said and we had hung up the
phone, I burst into tears,” Huddleston said. “I knew that it was cancer
at that point.”
That Monday Chatem was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease, a cancer that
starts in lymphatic tissue. The progression of Hodgkin’s Disease is
classified in four stages: the first stage is considered the least
advanced, and the fourth stage is considered the most difficult to treat.
Chatem’s cancer was considered Stage II. She started chemotherapy
treatments almost immediately.
“I didn’t realize how hard it would be until I started chemo,” Chatem
said. “Chemo is very invasive.”
Being a high school teacher made it even more difficult at times. Not
all CV High students knew Chatem had cancer, and didn’t understand why
her hair was shaved. Having her mother work at the same school made those
times easier, Chatem said.
Chatem continued to rely on her mother for support during her
treatment. Huddleston accompanied her daughter to some of her
chemotherapy appointments, and consoled her on her “bad days.”
“There’s really nothing like a mom,” Chatem said. “Just talking to her
helps, because if someone’s not there to talk to you, it’s so much more
But for Huddleston, the support she gave to her daughter wasn’t the
result of anything special, she said.
“It’s just what moms do,” she said.
Chatem made it through the four months of chemotherapy treatments and
began radiation. But then her father, Huddleston’s husband of 32 years,
began to feel ill.
On the day after Chatem finished her radiation treatment, her father,
Bill Huddleston, had triple bypass surgery. Now, it was Chatem’s turn to
provide support to her mother.
“She’s been such a joy to us,” Huddleston said, adding that Chatem
helped out with the care of her youngest son as her husband underwent his
surgery. He is now in recovery, which is going well, Huddleston said.
About a year after Chatem first noticed the lump in her neck, her
cancer is in remission. Both mother and daughter say the experiences of
the past year have brought them, and the rest of their family, closer
“Before, I didn’t tell her all the things I was going through,” Chatem
said. “Now I can tell her anything with no reservations.”
“We’ve all become more vulnerable,” she added.