Our Patients:

Ambrea Doll


“My name is Ambrea, and I am cancer free.” These were the words spoken by 14-year-old survivor, Ambrea, as she confidently completed her solo dance performance to the song, “I’ll never surrender” – by Shangrii-La.  This day, March 10, 2024, marks nearly one year following her life-threatening diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. “It’s pure joy to see her back on stage,” says Ambrea’s mom, Julie – a family nurse practitioner. “This time last year, Iife threw us a curveball. Her performances and her ability to live her passions have a whole new meaning for me now.”

Dancing has been part of the Doll family DNA for decades. Having grown up dancing and playing sports throughout her childhood, Julie double-majored in nursing and dance during her college years at SIUE. Through starting her career as a nurse, growing her career as a nurse practitioner, and starting a family, she continued to teach dance and only had a brief hiatus for a few years following the birth of her first child (Gavin – now 17). “When Ambrea was born 2.5 years later and started showing an interest in dance by the age of 3, I jumped right back in to teaching dance at our local studio,” Julie said. “Neither one of us have looked back, and I’m even more grateful now that it’s something we can share.”

“I remember that night last April like it was yesterday,” Julie said. “We had come home from a Saturday photo session at the dance studio, and I had just laid down for bed.  Ambrea came in my room and asked me to feel a lump she found above her left clavicle. Looking back, she had been occasionally short of breath the weeks prior and her endurance was down a bit from normal, but she’s asthmatic so sometimes those things don’t alarm me. The lymph node WAS alarming to me and I’m sure that I filtered my response to her some. Unfortunately, I know as a nurse practitioner that supraclavicular nodes are worrisome for malignancy. I didn’t want to let my mind go there as her mom, but the clinical side of me knew I needed to get her looked at ASAP. I reached out to her primary care nurse practitioner Sunday morning who agreed to squeeze her in before-hours on Monday, April 3.”

As part of Ambrea’s visit that Monday, the nurse practitioner arranged for her to have a CT scan at the local hospital. The scan revealed evidence of lymphoproliferative disease and a call was made immediately to SSM Health Cardinal Glennon requesting further evaluation.

“The results gutted me,” Julie said tearfully. “I knew better than to draw conclusions before she got fully checked out, but it was hard not to jump ahead in my mind.” Ambrea had an appointment at The Costas Center with oncologist, Dr. Shermini Saini, on Wednesday morning, as well as a PET scan, two additional CT scans and a consult with pediatric general surgeon, Dr. Justin Sobrino. A plan was made for Ambrea to have a lymph node resection and biopsy on Good Friday, April 7.

“Ambrea had her biopsy on Friday, and I knew we’d have results pretty quickly,” Julie said. “As much as I wanted and needed those results, I struggled with the possibility of sharing any difficult news with her immediately. Ambrea was scheduled to perform the following weekend in a dance competition, and I wanted her to be able to focus all of her energy on that if she could. Oddly enough, Ambrea had been at Cardinal Glennon for a lymph node evaluation back in 2017. She had some inguinal lymph nodes that were inflamed, and she also had fever and pain. Despite knowing that incident was an infectious process and easily resolved with antibiotics, I was able to buy some time and convince her that all this testing was a similar process to what she went through before,” Julie said.

Biopsy results returned on April 12 confirming a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Dr. Saini arranged for Ambrea to return to the hospital Tuesday, April 18, following the dance competition. “I was so grateful and reassured that Dr. Saini gave Ambrea the opportunity to have that time. There was no way to prepare my heart and no good way to tell her, but Sunday night Adam and I sat down with Ambrea and told her she had cancer,” Julie said. “The first question she asked us was if she was going to die. Her grandmother (my stepmom) had died of lung cancer in her late 40’s. Her great grandmother (my grandmother) had lung and breast cancer. She also has a cousin who is a survivor of childhood leukemia. I adamantly told her ‘no’ – that she was NOT going to die. We would learn what we needed to do to beat it and do just that.”

Ambrea was admitted to the hospital on Tuesday, April 18, 2023 to begin treatment. She had surgery to place her port, which is her central line for chemo delivery. She had a bone marrow biopsy and she began her first round of chemotherapy. Ambrea’s planned roadmap included 4 cycles of chemotherapy every 21 days. She would have inpatient chemotherapy on days 1, 2 and 3; outpatient chemotherapy on day 8, and then repeat every 21 days until completion of 4 cycles.

“The first cycle was definitely the toughest on her,” Julie said. “Ambrea had terrible jaw pain and some neuropathy to her feet. She had sores affecting a lot of the mucosal lining in her body and lost 10-12 pounds. She had transfusions of blood and platelets after 3 of her 4 cycles, and also had an overlapping histoplasmosis fungal infection at one point in her lungs,” Julie said. “She honestly tried to sleep her chemo admissions away as much as she could. Her favorite nurses really knew her as a person. They knew she loved dancing, skin care and makeup. They also knew when she needed to rest and protected her peace as much as possible.”

“Even though her body was tired, she wanted as much normalcy as possible and to keep living her life. In May, 2023 she graduated 8th grade and danced in her annual dance recital. In June, she danced at her own benefit recital and even made a trip to Disney World with her dance studio. The opportunity to march in the parade at Magic Kingdom had been cancelled two years in a row due to the pandemic. Determined not to miss it, Ambrea asked Dr. Saini if there was any way she could go. They were able to schedule her chemo cycles around the trip and that incredible experience gave her the motivation she needed to finish the rest of her cancer journey strong.”

“Fortunately, Ambrea’s body got a little tougher each month. She completed her final cycle and rang the bell on July 27, 2023.” The histoplasmosis infection made it challenging to interpret her CT and PET scans for a while. The abnormal findings that would occur on her scans had to be scrutinized for what was lingering effects of histoplasmosis vs. evidence of cancerous disease,” said Julie. “In addition to regular PET and CT scans, she’ll need echocardiograms, pulmonary function tests and possible reproductive consult long into the future. The chemotherapy agents used to treat her cancer put her at risk for long term effects on her heart, lungs and reproductive system.

Ambrea is currently a freshman in high school, performing in the annual spring musical and is part of a long list of clubs including but not limited to Student Council, Dance Team, FFA (Future Farmers of America), and the school newspaper. When asked if she’s thought about future career aspirations, Julie states, “Ambrea is actually loving her health class right now. She’s talked about being an oncology nurse or doing something that’s related to the medical field, but she also wants to be a makeup artist for celebrities,” laughs Julie. Ambrea has follow-up scans and visits to The Costas Center every 3 months. Her latest scans in January 2024 showed resolution of lymphoma and a full clinical remission.