Amanda Torfi remembers being diagnosed with cancer at age 22 and wondering if she would live to celebrate her 23rd birthday. She was young, busy with her work as a nurse in the emergency department at Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital and put off seeing her doctor about a persistent sore throat and painfully swollen tonsils. When she finally did make an appointment with an ear, nose and throat specialist, a biopsy showed that she had Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.
“I kept thinking I had strep throat, and I shrugged it off,” says Amanda, now 24 and a mission delivery manager for the American Cancer Society. “But it got to the point that I was never feeling better. My tonsils were the size of golf balls and touched each other, so I had trouble eating.
“When I finally went to the doctor, he looked at my throat and said there were tumors all way down in my esophagus,” says Amanda, who lives in Kennesaw, Georgia. “He did a biopsy, and after that, he told me I had cancer. It was pretty unbelievable. I had to call my parents in California to tell them the bad news. It was very hard to make that call.
Two weeks later, she had surgery to remove her tonsils and the lining of her esophagus. Recovery from the procedure was difficult and painful as the skin grew back in her throat. She couldn’t eat or drink anything for two weeks. When a scan showed that the cancer was Stage 2 and present in all of her lymph nodes, Amanda underwent four consecutive weeks of chemotherapy followed by 31 days of radiation.
“But when I went in for another scan after treatment, my cancer had progressed to Stage 3,” she recalls. “Doctors didn’t have a lot of answers. I had just turned 23, and my parents had been staying with me. I was going to California for a visit, and doctors said when I came back we had to have a serious talk about my options.
“I didn’t know what was happening, but I wanted to just enjoy time with my family. It was so hard on them. And it was hard on me as a young adult to have to share that cancer experience and see the pain it caused my parents and my brother and know there’s nothing you can do to change the bad news.”
When Amanda and her parents met with doctors after the trip, two options were put before them: A bone marrow transplant or an experimental treatment. The bone marrow transplant required a waiting period, and Amanda’s cancer had already progressed even during her previous treatments. She and her family decided they didn’t have time to wait and chose the experimental treatment that could start right away.
Before she was diagnosed with cancer, Amanda had volunteered with the American Cancer Society in the Cobb County office. After a break as she underwent chemotherapy and radiation, Amanda returned to the Cobb office.
“I had lost my hair and was wearing a head scarf. I hadn’t been able to go into the office for two or three months, and I hadn’t gone anywhere but Emory for my treatment,” she says. “Everyone at the American Cancer Society office was so welcoming and excited to see me. They accepted me back as I had been before all this happened, and have stood by me every step of the way.”
In December 2011, Amanda got a new set of scans following experimental treatment, and they showed she was cancer-free.
“I found out the news in the Cobb office. I got off the phone and was just shell shocked in front of the staff members. I told them the cancer is gone. The American Cancer Society has been with me since before I was sick all the way to where I am now,” she says.
In February 2012, Amanda joined the American Cancer Society staff as the mission delivery manager for Northwest Georgia, working with cancer patients and survivors and managing relationships with key medical facilities in the area. She also talks with doctors, nurses and others about ACS programs that are available to cancer patients – some of which she has used herself such as the toll-free number, 1-800-227-2345, for cancer information, and Look Good…Feel Better, which helps women cancer patients with their appearance and self confidence.
Amanda says, “There is no better place to be than ACS. I believe everything happens for a reason. I have experience in nursing, and being a cancer patient gives me so much knowledge. All of this gives me a special perspective into what we do here at the American Cancer Society and how important our work is on behalf of cancer patients.”
Pam Ashman, the Society’s Mission Delivery Director for Metro Atlanta says of Amanda, “She brings so much energy and passion to her job and to helping cancer patients. She has been through cancer, and she knows so well how hard the battle is. The knowledge and experience she brings to the American Cancer Society is amazing.”
For now, Amanda is in what she calls maintenance treatment every few months and tries to schedule her appointments early in the morning so she can be at work on time. She says having cancer has changed her perspective and has made her feel closer to her family
“I’ve had to grow up and a lot of my friends have had to grow up with me through all of this,” she says. “I go home a lot more than I used to. Those moments are incredible for me, when I get to be 24 instead of feeling like someone who’s a lot older.”