Patient Stories

Equestrian Ready to Ride After Beating Cancer

Originally published November 9, 2022

Last updated May 3, 2024

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USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center patient Kristin Titov, pictured at a stable in San Juan Capistrano

A Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis brought Kristin Titov to USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center for personalized treatment and a care team that felt like family.

Kristin Titov is highly accomplished in the world of reining — a competition in which a rider guides a horse through a series of maneuvers — and she endures long, intense practices to prepare.

So, after waking up sore one morning, Kristin didn’t suspect a problem.

“I was massaging my neck and felt a bump; I thought it was a knot in a muscle,” says Kristin, who sought relief from a chiropractor in the fall of 2020. “He said it looked like a lymph node and told me to see a doctor right away.”

Kristin’s primary care physician said it was possible she had lymphoma and referred her to Louis VanderMolen, MD, an oncologist with USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center in Newport Beach.

Although Kristin had no family history of cancer, she immediately recognized the specialist’s name: Dr. VanderMolen had treated her best friend’s mother.

“For years, I had heard about this doctor my best friend calls ‘the miracle worker,’” says Kristin, a Corona del Mar resident. “She didn’t expect her mother to survive her cancer diagnosis, but she beat it working with Dr. VanderMolen and lived to be 92.”

After an inconclusive biopsy, Dr. VanderMolen sent Kristin to a surgeon to have her lymph node removed.

On her 43rd birthday, doctors told Kristin that she had Hodgkin lymphoma. It is a cancer of the lymphatic system, which includes the tissues and organs that produce, store, and carry white blood cells that fight infections and other diseases.

‘Top-notch’ cancer care in Orange County

Hodgkin lymphoma is common in young adulthood and in adults over the age of 65. And while some people experience symptoms such as fever, sweats or unexplained weight loss, Kristin says she felt nothing until she noticed the swollen lymph node in her neck.

Current treatments for Hodgkin lymphoma involve radiation with or without chemotherapy, depending on the stage of the disease.

“The outlook is usually excellent for these individuals,” Dr. VanderMolen says. “Over the years, the treatment has become less extensive, shorter in duration and less toxic.”

I knew from the beginning that I could trust Dr. VanderMolen. I also felt that everyone that he referred me to was top-notch, and they all had nothing but respect for him.

Kristin Titov, USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center patient

Kristin had several rounds of chemotherapy that tested her emotionally and physically. It also prevented her from spending much time with her horse, Pickles, because she boards the animal in Arizona.

Despite her challenges, Kristin never questioned whether she was in the right hands.

“I knew from the beginning that I could trust Dr. VanderMolen,” she says. “I also felt that everyone that he referred me to was top-notch, and they all had nothing but respect for him.”

Kristin Titov is preparing to ride again (Photos by Kremer Johnson Photography)

Cancer-free and back in the saddle

Kristin credits the entire staff at the treatment center in Newport Beach for delivering a positive experience.

The Newport Beach clinic and infusion center is licensed by USC Norris Cancer Hospital, part of USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The clinic, which opened in April 2022, uses the latest technology and includes an on-site laboratory and pharmacy to provide patients with coordinated, personalized care.

“Every time I have a follow-up, it’s like going to a family reunion,” says Kristin, who has finished her treatments and resumed running her western-inspired clothing and accessories business, Hobby Horse, Inc.

With her scans coming back clear of cancer, she is planning to return to reining competitions later this year — and with a stronger spirit and outlook to boot.

“In reining, there’s a saying: ‘One box at a time,’” says Kristin, explaining that a rider’s every maneuver is judged separately during competition, with scores totaled at the end.

“That was also my saying when I was going through chemo, even when it was overwhelming: ‘One box at a time and one treatment at a time.’”

Connect With Our Team

USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center specialists provide personalized care for every hematologicic condition — close to home, within the Orange County community, at one of our convenient locations in Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Buena Park.
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Hope Hamashige
Hope Hamashige is a freelance writer for Keck Medicine of USC.

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USC Health Magazine 2024 Issue #1

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