Saturday, July 01, 2006

My journey with Hodgkins Lymphoma

My journey with cancer began when I was 19 and my little sister was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 14. Time stopped for my family as she began her year long battle with cancer. I remember vividly telling people that is was so strange how cancer hits. One day everything is “normal” and the next day everything you think about revolves around cancer. You don’t get any warnings you can’t prepare and yet nothing in your life or your families’ life will ever be the same.

It was much the same for me when I found out about my cancer. It began with my yearly company paid physical. My boss and I scheduled our physicals at the same time so that we would actually go. I had never felt better, I was working out and preparing for a 3 week vacation in Europe, I was healthy. A few days after the physical I got a call saying that there was something strange showing on my chest x-ray and that I should go have a CT. The doctor said “you are young, I am sure it is nothing but you should have it checked”. So I didn’t worry, scheduled the CT and didn’t give it much thought. About an hour after the CT I got a call saying that there was something there that I should have it checked. What followed were a few doctor’s appointments with different specialist trying to figure out what “it” was they were seeing in my chest. No one really thought it was cancer and everyone dismissed the fact that my sister had had Hodgkin’s. Every doctor we met with was sure that it wouldn’t be Hodgkin’s because doesn’t run in families. Everything culminated in surgery to biopsy the mass. On June 28th, 2005 as I woke from surgery the doctor said “I am sorry, looks like cancer – Hodgkin’s lymphoma”. All I could think was are you kidding me….here we go again.

They say if you are going to get cancer Hodgkin’s lymphoma is the kind to get which is one of the weirdest statements you will ever hear. Approximately 8,000 people in the US are diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma every year so it is not a common cancer. It is extremely curable and they have treated it for years with high success rates. It has about and 90% cure rate which compared to most cancers is really high. Funnily enough you start to feel lucky that your diagnosis is Hodgkin’s.

Soon after surgery they brought Dr. Reddy to my room – he would become my oncologist. A very young, good looking, kind natured man who I would come to trust with my medical journey. The first decision he needed to help me make was, CAN I GO ON MY VACATION? Looking back I am sure he thought I was a nut. Here I am 28, diagnosed with cancer and more worried about going to Ireland than discussing upcoming treatment. I did end up going on a shortened version of my 3 week vacation and toured Ireland with friends. To this day I am very happy that I had that chance to go and have a little fun and try out the Guinness cure for cancer, which by the way doesn’t work.

Upon my arrival back in the states I began 6 months of chemotherapy. After staging my disease they decided that I was stage 2A which meant I had no real symptoms (night sweats, weight loss, itching, etc) and the tumors were only in 2 locations both above my abdomen.

AVBD is the acronym for the type of chemo I received. For 4 hours every other week I would receive this lovely elixir from July to December. It is hard to describe how chemo makes you feel and what the experience is like in general. I believe that is because in reality you don’t want anyone to know how awful it is. The physical pain is bad, that is a given. You feel sick, you feel tired and your body becomes a science experiment. The environment is strange, or at least it was for me, you are sickest you have ever been you are the sickest person most people close to you know but there are people all around you who are way sicker than you are. Your life is consumed with the illness what you can eat, what your body can do, where you can go. You may want to take a break but you can’t escape the impact.

I finished my 6 months of chemo and was declared in remission by my doctor the first week of 2006. How sweet it was to start the year off with a clean bill of health. I felt so blessed that I had fought this disease and won in less than a year!

I went for my first set of check up scans in April of 2006. I knew that every 3 months for the next 2 years I would have scans to check and make sure everything was ok. Unfortunately, during my first set of scans the cancer was back. There was a 5% chance that the cancer would return and somehow I won that lottery. Since it came back so soon after remission we had some choices to make regarding treatment. It was a roller coaster of research and decisions. What you learn pretty quickly is that as a patient you have to be your own advocate and ask the right questions. So we met with more doctors and decided that I would use a combination of chemo, stem cell transplant and radiation.

So right now I am smack dab in the middle of what we are referring to as CANCER PART DEUX. I am about to have my transplant and then will move on to radiation. This time we used a chemo called ICE – sounds like a nice summer treatment but as you might imagine it was even worse than the first round of chemo. Hard to imagine but true.

The most amazing thing for my about having cancer was that at some point I was actually thankful for the experience and the lessons that cancer was teaching me. It made me look at my life from a different direction and with clarity I had never had. I had more questions and doubts than ever before but something just shifted and I was seeing things with a gratefulness I never experienced.

One of the most life changing experiences I will ever have was the outpouring of support. I have said to many people that I hope at least once in their life they are able to experience what it feels like to receive the gift of seeing how loved and cared about you actually are. I had so many cards, emails, phone calls and support in general. I am not sure most people know how loved they are, to feel it fills you with such love

All in all - I try to remember each day that it is just cancer. I look around and realize that everyone faces their own challenges each and everyday. Mine are no easier or worse just mine.

1 Comments:

At 10:04 PM, Blogger Angela said...

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