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Illness strengthens mom-daughter bond

Janine Marnien

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.