It was nine days before my 30th birthday. I reached behind my ear to pull my hair into a ponytail and discovered a large lump that extended all the way down my neck. Although I didn’t have any other symptoms, I knew this wasn’t normal. That evening, July 16, 2019, I went to the ER. The doctors did blood work and a CT scan that revealed a mass in my lymph node. That same night, I was sent home with a phone number to an oncologist at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.
After six long weeks of waiting, my dad received a call from the oncologist letting him know the results of my biopsy. That evening my dad sat me down in our living room and told me I had a rare form of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. At first, it didn’t sink in. It wasn’t until I heard the words “you’ll need chemotherapy,” that it hit me - I had cancer.
It didn’t seem possible. I felt fine. I had just turned 30, was recently promoted at work, and had plans to fly to Peru that same week to hike to Machu Picchu with my closest friends. Unfortunately, I would have to skip that trip and start chemo instead. The next few days were a whirlwind of events. I had to call my siblings, best friends, and coworkers one by one to let them know about my diagnosis. That week my mom traveled to Pittsburgh with me, where she stayed for the next month. We went to countless appointments, including an emotional visit to the fertility clinic and a painful bone marrow biopsy.
The week before my first round of chemo, I got very sick. My doctor ordered several blood tests, including the first blood draw from my port. The results showed an infection in my bloodstream. The cause of the infection was my implanted port. I was sent to the ER, immediately admitted to the hospital for the next week, and the port had to be removed right away. I began IV antibiotics every eight hours for the next fourteen days through a PICC line in my arm. After recovering from the infection and consequential pneumonia, I was ready to receive a new port and begin chemo.
Although it had been delayed about 6 weeks, the rest of my treatment went exactly as expected. I went through six rounds of CHOP chemotherapy. My side effects were limited, and the ones I experienced were easily managed. The most difficult side effect to handle was losing my hair, which began less than 2 weeks after my first treatment. The night before my second round, my mom and I sat on my bedroom floor and shaved my head. I remember getting up in the middle of the night that evening and crying as I caught a glance of myself in the bathroom mirror. It was weeks before I could look at myself without crying. Even on days when I physically felt fine, my shaved head was a reminder of my cancer.
As I write this letter, I am one week out from my post treatment PET scan. The lump on my neck is gone. I completed my final round of chemo last month and I got to ring the bell in celebration. I don’t know whether I am cancer free yet, but I am hopeful that when I share my story at the American Cancer Society fundraiser in September, I will be speaking to you all as a cancer survivor.
For more than a 100 years, The American Cancer Society has been leading the fight to end cancer. With your support, we have helped usher in an era where more people survive cancer than ever before. By translating our research findings into action, we've seen a 20% decline in US cancer death rates since the early 1990s.
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