Published on May 05, 2014

Fighting chronic lymphocytic leukemia with Nazareth Hospital

Jennifer FitzgeraldJennifer Fitzgerald is a young, vibrant woman—upbeat and active.

She’s also a fighter. Since being diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 2007, she has had three rounds of chemotherapy, most recently at Nazareth Hospital. Her treatments temporarily knock her down but never out, thanks to excellent medical care, her determined spirit, and the loving support of her family and friends.

Taking an Active Role

Jennifer may have cancer, but it doesn’t define her. She works in quality control in the food industry, at a company she describes as “awesome” for their flexibility in accommodating time off for her treatment. She takes courses at Thomas Edison State College. And she aggressively pursues every opportunity to knock her cancer back into remission.

“I know there is a lot about cancer that is not within my control, so I focus on what I can control,” says Jennifer. “Things like my diet, standing up for my rights, proper communication, and staying stress-free. I think it’s really important to be your own healthcare advocate.”

“Jennifer is unique,” says Allison Zibelli, MD, Jennifer’s oncologist and a Jefferson Cancer Network Physician who treats patients at Nazareth Hospital as a member of Mercy Hematology/Oncology. “She’s young and having to cope with health challenges, but she’s managing to live her life. And really, our goal for everyone’s treatment is a good quality of life.”

Nazareth in Her Corner

There are some special people at Nazareth who are solidly in Jennifer’s corner during this fight. That became apparent during Jennifer’s very first treatment this year. A drug she’s taking is relatively new—it didn’t exist five years ago, Dr. Zibelli points out—and for some patients there is a chance of an allergic reaction. For this reason, patients are hospitalized and carefully monitored when they receive the first infusion.

“I had nurses by my side for the entire 14 hours I was being monitored,” Jennifer says. “Terrie Cannon, the Oncology Nurse Navigator, also sat with me and answered all my questions. Everyone was wonderful! I could not have asked for more.”

Jennifer also gives special praise to oncology nurses in the new Infusion Suite. “I can call them when I head to the hospital from work, and when I arrive 30 minutes later, they’re all ready for me,” says Jennifer. “They’ve been great!”

Wanting to share her journey with family and friends, as well as anyone starting or currently in cancer treatment, Jennifer created a blog called She encourages visitors, and the response has been very positive. “People who read it say to me, ‘Wow, I can’t believe how strong you are’,” she says. “But I’ve learned that everyone is stronger than they perceive themselves to be.”