Lymphoma patient finds life's purpose in helping others endure cancer treatment

Anita Shanklin, lymphoma survivor

Instead of worrying about herself during cancer treatment, Anita Shanklin focused on positively impacting other people’s lives. “I found my life’s purpose, to brighten the lives of others,” she said.

When Lansing resident Anita Shanklin was at her worst, undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, she made it her mission to uplift other cancer survivors.

When Shanklin, 66, started rapidly losing weight last summer, she knew something was wrong. She went to see her primary care physician Nirav Chudgar, MD, who referred her to hematologist-oncologist Danielle Sterrenberg, MD, at UChicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial Hospital.

Sterrenberg diagnosed Shanklin with stage 3 diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, or DLBCL, the most common type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. DLBCL is an aggressive and fast-growing cancer that affects lymphocytes, the type of white blood cells that are critical for fighting infections.

“She was very sick when she first came in and we needed to move fast,” Sterrenberg said.

Shanklin’s cancer was in her pancreas, liver and chest. She immediately began eight rounds of chemotherapy at the UChicago Medicine at Ingalls - Flossmoor location and quickly became a warm and friendly face in the infusion center.

“She has a very colorful, vivacious character," Sterrenberg said. "She always gave out hugs and became a member of the family in Flossmoor.”

Instead of worrying about herself, Shanklin focused on positively impacting other people’s lives. “I found my life’s purpose, to brighten the lives of others,” she said.

At the same time, a young man diagnosed with cancer was also undergoing chemotherapy treatment. Shanklin became quick friends with the man, and he eventually asked her to be his godmother.

“We went through chemotherapy together. We encouraged each other and other patients and prayed together,” Shanklin said. “I’m a faithful person, and I believe that God sent him to me.”

Shanklin goes to the UChicago Medicine at Ingalls - Calumet City location for physical therapy, but her cancer is now in remission. She said she is starting to feel normal again. “Having cancer is not always a death sentence,” she said. Her advice to others undergoing treatment? “Keep focused, keep the faith and help others.”

Sonali Smith, MD, talks with Clayton Harris, a lymphoma patient

Lymphoma care

Tremendous strides have been made in the treatment of lymphoma — a group of blood cancers that begins in the white blood cells that fight infection in the body. UChicago Medicine lymphoma experts are among the first in the nation to offer innovative treatment options, including CAR T-cell therapy.

Learn more about our lymphoma services