C is for courage: Cassi Lambert thrives after crushing cancer

And that’s only the beginning of the exuberant sophomore’s extraordinary life.

Cassi Lambert under the stadium lights at North Penn’s Homecoming.

TOWAMENCIN – We often see change as a difficult task and tend to steer away from it. But if change was easy, how would we grow and evolve as people? Cancer, full of hours spent in a hospital bed and fear for anything that may occur, was a chapter in North Penn High School sophomore Cassi Lambert’s life that ended up becoming a life lesson, giving her a brighter perspective on life.

After two months of constant testing and a few misdiagnoses, Lambert was finally diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a tumor that forms in the bones or soft tissue that affects mostly children and teenagers, in February 2018.

“It was in front of my heart, lung and the fourth rib. At first, it started out as just chest pain and back pain, and we visited a doctor, and I got x-rays, and they diagnosed it as pneumonia and pleurisy but it was a misdiagnosis. What they didn’t tell us was that they saw something on the skin on that rib,” explained Lambert.

Lambert, who was honored at North Penn’s Homecoming, with her brothers.

With things getting more serious, Lambert’s family could have sued, but chose not to because they didn’t want to hurt the pediatricians who helped out during the biopsy. She had a biopsy of the rib where they found the cancer. Later, they did another biopsy in her hips, where sarcomas are most commonly found, because they spread there the easiest.

After discovering the fact that she had cancer, Lambert admits that there was no easy way to tell her friends and family. But the response was completely different than what she had expected.

“After a while, different people started setting stuff up online without even asking us, like GoFundMe accounts. They ended up setting up a CaringBridge, which is an online journal, and people made dinner for us. It also helped me get a lot closer with my family, because some of the family that wouldn’t talk to me too much before ended up relating somehow emotionally. If they knew someone or if they went through it personally—like people at my church—they understood what I was going through. It was kind of cool to have different connections with people that I didn’t have before. A lot of people were super supportive, and there were some people who would offer things that they never lived up to, which I didn’t get too upset over, but my mom did. I understood that you want to make [people] feel so great, but you make promises that you can’t always keep, but they feel better about it,” said Lambert.

Soon, Lambert began her treatment, which ranged from two days of chemo in one week to five days in another.

“I got treated with chemotherapy for a while, and then after the tumor was small enough to do surgery and operate on, the surgeons saw some roots of the tumor growing towards my lungs. They had a meeting about it to decide whether or not I should get radiation. They gave me the decision, they recommended that I got radiation therapy. I did it just to be safe. It was a 30 day radiation therapy,” said Lambert.

Lambert received a new type of radiation therapy called proton radiation which has more control and can decide how deep it wants to go, while normal radiation kills and damages everything in its path. Unfortunately, since it was new, there were a lot of malfunctions. Some days, Lambert was not able to get it because the machine didn’t work.

Submitted photo
Lambert prepares for treatment.

For Lambert, treatment was harsher than it was for others. She got more of the side effects and wouldn’t eat for days because she was afraid of feeling nauseous. Instead of getting an engine tube through the nose because she thought it would have been uncomfortable, Lambert chose to get surgery to insert a feeding tube in her stomach. Still, she ended up receiving more pain due to sensitivity.  

“When your blood count drops, the area there is affected. I got mouth sores a lot because chemo also kills the good bacteria. The good bacteria isn’t there to protect your gums, so you get mouth sores and swollen gums. It also affects your stomach; the tube was in my stomach so it was really swollen there, and I had to go to the emergency room a couple times for that. They were concerned that the fluid was going into my skin rather than my stomach. But my doctor was good about it because he knew that I knew my body better than the doctors. . .they thought they knew what was best for it when I really did. . . I was actually in the ER for my birthday, I had the choice to go home or not, but I chose to stay there because I knew that that was best for me, and I knew that the pain was gonna get a lot worse. I decided that I wanted the pain to be taken care of and handled,” said Lambert.

As time went on, Lambert faced more difficulties throughout her treatment and struggled to deal with it.

“Sometimes, I felt like since they thought they knew what was best for me, they didn’t believe that I was in that much pain. The pain progressed a lot throughout the day so towards the middle of the night, when I went through a lot of pain, the nurses finally believed me so then they actually started caring. It was kind of annoying at that point. I had to go through pain for them to believe me,” said Lambert.

Despite all of the hardships, Lambert was lucky to finish her treatment on September 15 this year, instead of Christmas, when doctors expected.

Submitted photo
Lambert celebrates her last chemotherapy treatment.

In the beginning, life in the hospital mainly consisted of sleep. The medications given to Lambert were harsh, which caused drowsiness. Because of that, she wasn’t able to meet too many people at first.

Soon, Lambert began making new friends as she shared rooms with other patients and visited other hospitals.

“There was a little girl who had a brain tumor that they couldn’t do anything to fix, so we hung out with her family. There was another girl, and she had leukemia, and we’re still really close with her family, but she had it really bad so she’s not with us anymore. We still keep in touch with my nurses even though you’re not technically supposed to. My dad keeps in touch with my favorite nurse. She was one of my first nurses. She usually had night shifts, and when everyone else was asleep and she didn’t have to care for them too much, she would play Phase Ten until midnight – and even if she had something to do, she would be like ‘I’ll be right back, don’t cheat or anything!’ so I would play with her and my dad. Even though I don’t remember some of it because of the medicine that they gave me, I remember that it was still fun,”  recalled Lambert.

Lambert also remembers the small things from CHOP (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia); she appreciates all the work put in to make sure the patients weren’t miserable. She remembers moments like playing Mario Kart the entire day with her younger brother, Caleb.

As for life at school, Lambert wanted to stay as normal as possible, and continued to attend school. She prioritized school and was eager to learn despite feeling weak at times.

For around 8 months, Lambert wore a hat every single day, as she began to lose all of her hair until she decided to just shave it off. She explained how she felt more comfortable wearing it, rather than wearing a wig like many others. But as of recently, she decided to take her hat off. It was extremely difficult to convince herself to do it, but with the help of supportive friends, she decided to go for it. To help boost her confidence, she picked a nice outfit and walked with her friend through the cafeteria. Now, that day is history, and Lambert continues to feel empowered and realizes that she can do more.

Submitted Photo
Lambert on the football field at Homecoming, accompanied by her older brother Isaac.

Through that experience, Lambert also learned the different ways that people were being treated. She expressed how we all may think we know everything about someone, but we really don’t and should respect others, because we don’t know what they’re going through.

Although cancer was a big part of her life, it wasn’t always there. Essentially, she was the same as she was before her treatment, but now she’s a better version of herself. She has always loved art, specifically drawing, and is currently taking Art Major this year. She also loves hanging out with friends and making people laugh. She is involved in Christian Club and attends a youth group every Wednesday. She plans to be involved in the medical field and hopes to travel around the world.

As of right now, Lambert is cancer free, though she doesn’t want to get her hopes up, since she mentioned how we still don’t have a cure for cancer. Her family is planning to have a big party with all different types of cookies (since her dad always called her a “tough cookie”) and plans to go to Aruba in the spring. This period in time is special for her – it’s a time for relief and happiness.

“I’d never expect to be in this position with so many opportunities and experiences. It’s also a little nerve racking because [I’ll]  know I’m officially cancer free by the end of this year if they see absolutely nothing on the scans. So that thought is going to be in the back of my mind throughout this year,” said Lambert.

Lambert was able to persevere by remembering all the great things that happened throughout the experience and praying constantly. She gained a new mindset and focused on the positive side of life.

Marissa Werner
Isaac and Cassie walking down the field during the Homecoming ceremony.

“I’ve grown from it emotionally. I feel like I could see life from a different aspect. I just don’t care as much [about] what people think. There’s always going to be negative days throughout it, but it’s better to think positive so it helps you get through it,” said Lambert.