People often ask me, “how did you know?” The simple answer was that I didn’t. It started with a simple cough. A cough that at times was minor and annoying and other times that kept me up for hours at night. But after multiple visits to multiple doctors and an array of tests that took well over a month, I had a diagnosis: Stage IV Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. I was 33 years old. A cancer that is most commonly found in males over the age of 60. So, as you can see, I fit the profile to a T.
I got the news of my potential cancer diagnosis just before Mother’s Day in 2013. I would read tributes from friends on Facebook to their mothers who had passed and all I can remember thinking is that this can’t be the future for my children, it won’t be. At Ella’s dance recital that year, I also recall sitting in the audience wondering if that would be the last time I would ever see her dance. I was angry and would at times ask, why me? My quick response was why not me? The reality is that this disease affects wonderful peopleevery day, why would I be immune?
Soon, I began my treatment. I had a rough road ahead because the cancer was aggressive and had spread. I wasn't able to have surgery, so chemotherapy and anti-antibody treatments were my only treatment option. It was by far the most difficult time of my life, but looking around the waiting room I could see that many people had it worse.
Fast forward to today. On December 21, I hit the milestone of all milestones, 5 years cancer free. I have officially been deemed “cured."
This is both scary and exciting. There are no guarantees in life for any of us and the chance that I will encounter cancer again is higher than most. But I live for today and to hopefully see the day that we find the ultimate cure. There’s a quote that I found early in my journey and it still remains a mantra for me today. It reads “And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what the storm’s all about.”
My diagnosis and journey changed me for the better. I learned that you have to fight through some reallyhard days to earn the best days of your life. Cancer brought me closer to the ones I love, and with that, it gave me more than it ever took away. There is still not a day that goes by that I don’t think of the fact that I had cancer. I have many visible and non-visible scars. I choose not to focus on those thoughts and focus on today. I am here, I am healthy. I have a new appreciation for life and have a lot of life left to live.
I am one of the lucky ones. Not everyone is so fortunate. Some of you may have met or heard my dear friend, Carmen Miranda, speak as an Ambassador for the 2016 Light the Night Walk. She lost her battle with Lymphoma in 2018 after courageously fighting for 1,023 days. If you had put our cases side by side at the initial time of diagnosis, my case was worse. Yet I am still here. In large part, thanks to the work of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society does with regard to research.
I hope that you will consider joining me in generously supporting the important work of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. This work is what has allowed me to be here with you today. It’s what allows me to share my story. It’s what allows me to hug my children. And I hope it is what will allow us to one day see a world without cancer.