Two weeks before Chuck Kraus was to begin his first year of college at San Diego State University, he received a startling medical diagnosis. While it solved a mystery about his symptoms, a cancer diagnosis meant he needed to make some tough decisions.
For more than a year, the 18-year-old Sacramento resident had been plagued with unexplainable, intense itching throughout his body, especially his legs. The daily discomfort and nearly frantic scratching was disrupting his life and his sleep. With his parents, Kris and Tom Kraus, he consulted doctors for answers. But after extensive testing, the cause remained elusive. Resigned to learning to live with his agitating symptoms, Chuck Kraus registered for college classes and prepared to move to San Diego.
Two weeks before his first day of college, Chuck Kraus received a life-changing call from his Sutter Health doctor. The cause of the mysterious itching had been identified, but the diagnosis was serious. New tests had revealed Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the tissue located in the lymph nodes, spleen, liver and bone marrow. Itching is one symptom of this cancer, which tends to strike teens and young adults. In Chuck Kraus' case, a large cancerous tumor had also been found near one of his lungs.
"I was glad to find out that the problem was not in my head—and it was fixable," Chuck Kraus says. His relief was short-lived, however, when he learned that his treatment would involve an immediate course of chemotherapy and radiation. "I didn't really ask 'why me?' but 'why now?' with college just a few weeks off," he says.
His parents promptly called oncologist Antoine Sayegh, M.D., a cancer specialist with Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento, who had treated Kraus' mom Kris for breast cancer years earlier. "Before I even got started with any doctors' appointments, we had a good talk, and he answered all my questions and told me what to expect," Chuck Kraus says. The teen explained to Dr. Sayegh how much he wanted to attend college as originally planned, without delaying even a semester.
"Dr. Sayegh agreed that I could go to school, if we could arrange the flying back and forth for treatment." With no classes on Thursdays, Kraus agreed to fly home every Wednesday night, then receive chemotherapy the next morning at Sutter Cancer Center. After several hours of recuperation with his parents, Chuck Kraus would take a plane to San Diego on Thursday nights. Kraus' girlfriend Jessica Lenihan, also a student at San Diego State, provided transportation to the airport as well as support and encouragement throughout the treatment.
In some ways, "I think it was harder on my parents and Jessica to watch than it was for me to go through," he reflects. Nonetheless, it was a long, grueling year for the freshman—one marked by hair loss, extreme fatigue and weakness. Through it all, his Sutter Health care team was there for him, answering his questions by phone and coordinating additional care for him in San Diego.
"Each time I would come to Sacramento, Dr. Sayegh would lighten the mood with a joke, and I'd go see the nurses and get started on my treatment. A lot of the nurses had sons my age, and they all treated me like I was a son. They took very good care of me. That kept my spirits up," Kraus says.
Despite his cancer and treatment, Kraus completed his freshman year of college with flying colors—and an average grade point average of 3.88. Remarkably, he also managed to work a part-time job. Today he is feeling strong and healthy—no more itching—and is glad to be back to a normal life.