She Faced Cancer, She Chose Joy
Ragan Riddle used to describe herself as the Elon Law School student with the bald head and little beanie. While pursuing her degree, Ragan also battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma. But she didn’t battle it alone.
With the treatment and support of the medical team at Cone Health Cancer Center at Alamance Regional, Ragan weathered chemotherapy and the rigors of law school. She will graduate at the top of her class this spring, trading in her beanie for a mortarboard.
The summer before her senior year at Wingate University, Ragan began to develop a rash, had lower back pain and would experience fevers in the evening.
She went to her primary care physician, Mark Miller, MD, who ran tests for allergies and appendicitis. “Dr. Miller started me on three different prescriptions, medicine that should’ve cured any virus,” Ragan said. “The treatment cured the fever for about a month.”
When the fevers returned, a new CT scan showed that her lymph nodes had been growing. She finally had her diagnosis.
“I remember when they told me my diagnosis. I told my mother to stay home because it didn’t sound like it was going to be serious. Then Dr. Miller told me I had lymphoma.”
Her Treatment and Remission
Ragan got a PET scan and then a biopsy to confirm the type and stage of her cancer. She was referred to Timothy Finnegan, MD, at the Cone Health Cancer Center at Alamance Regional.
After Ragan completed a protocol of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, her cancer seemed to be in remission. Her treatments ended in June 2013, after she obtained her bachelor’s degree in May.
Managing Law School and a Return of Cancer
Ragan started at Elon Law School in August 2014, with the hopes of one day starting a non-profit. A routine follow-up the following September would reveal that her cancer had returned.
“It’s very unlikely that the cancer would return after treatment,” said Ragan. ”The symptoms usually don’t come until later on, so it was lucky that a routine scan caught the spots so early.”
Ragan didn’t want to graduate late from Elon, and she knew treatment was going to be more intense this time. “Elon worked with me and were incredibly helpful.”
Dr. Finnegan once again developed a plan for Ragan. A chemotherapy regimen that included three-day treatments at the Cone Health Cancer Center at Alamance Regional.
“I would start treatment on Tuesday, then take my pump bag to class with me Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday,” said Ragan. “Whenever I could be in class, I was there.”
As Ragan was only 21, her team also motivated her to preserve her eggs so that she could start a family someday. “Luckily, the team at Alamance Regional helped me to think this through.
She scheduled her treatment so she could finish chemotherapy by December 2015, take her finals, start the next round of therapy treatment in preparation for her bone marrow transplant after Christmas. She planned to be back at school and ready to continue law school by spring semester 2016.
“It all worked out,” said Ragan. ”I only missed 1.5 weeks of spring semester. I had to wear masks to school, carry hand sanitizer, and avoid sick people, but I kept going.”
Ragan is scheduled to graduate on time and with the rest of her class in May 2017.
What’s next for Ragan?
Ragan will begin working for Justice Paul M. Newby and the North Carolina Supreme Court this September after completing the North Carolina Bar exam.
Other than seeing her oncologist annually, and one more round of vaccinations, Ragan will no longer need medications.
Eventually, Ragan would like to apply her legal talent, considerable leadership skills, and her knowledge of international as well as domestic law to advancing the goals of non-profit organizations, like Canopy Life Academy, a residential school in Kenya that prepares kids to make a better life for those in their communities.