I was only 16 years old when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Stage 4B. I had just started my junior year of high school when I started to have severe back pain, along with fevers, trouble breathing, and pain in my lower right side. My parents rushed me to the local ER where they found a mass in my lower back. The following day I went to my primary doctor who decided to have me go through a CAT scan. After he got the results, he called us into his office that afternoon. As we were leaving to go, I had no idea that I was going to get news that would change my life forever.
"YOU HAVE CANCER."
Those three little words have such a big impact on anyone that hears them, no matter their age. He had already called UW of Madison Children's Hospital to let them know I was on the way up to them. After making sure my younger brothers were taken care of, my parents and I made the long and silent drive up north. So many things were going through my mind; this has to be a mistake, they read the scan wrong, and the question everyone asks at least once, WHY ME?
I was up in Madison for about a week going through test after test and surgery after surgery. When I finally got to come home, we had the diagnosis and treatment plan all planned out. I had to do all my treatment up in Madison which meant several trips back and forth. I underwent not only chemotherapy treatment, but radiation treatments as well. Finally, after a year of all of this, I was told the words I had been waiting for...YOU'RE IN REMISSION. I went home with the largest smile I’d had in months. But it was very short lived.
A few months after starting my senior year, I went in for all of my scans to make sure everything was still gone and got the shock of my life. They found a small mass. I ended up having surgery to have it biopsied to see what it was. Sure enough, the cancer had returned. Back up to Madison we went and this time I was put on a treatment regimen that didn't allow me to even go back to school. I had to be homeschooled, I missed my entire senior year of high school. The chemotherapy treatment I underwent this time was more aggressive so it meant I had to stay in the hospital for a week, hooked up to an IV pump the entire time.
I went through this for almost a year and it all led up to undergoing a stem cell transplant. Luckily when I was in remission the first time, they had taken stem cells from me, just in case something like this happened, so I received my own. Before I could do that though, I had to go through a battery of tests to make sure I was ready. It took three times to finally get the transplant going. The first time I was diagnosed with Shingles and we had to postpone until they were gone. The second time, I found out that I had a cardiomyopathy and had to postpone again to get that under control.
Finally, for the third time I was ready. I was put into an isolation ward because before they could give me the stem cells, they had to kill my immune system. After they did that, I received the stem cells and had to stay in isolation until my counts came back to normal. Going in, the doctors warned me that I would be there for at least 60 days, if not more. I looked them straight in the eyes and told them that they would be seeing me walk out of there in 20. I was stubborn and stuck to that every day. I walked out of there in 22 days with a smile on my face.
I have now been CANCER FREE for 10 years and want to do everything entirely possible to let those suffering through a blood cancer know that they are not alone. I have been a supporter of the LLS for almost 5 years now and credit them for my life. If it wasn't for all they have researched and found, I might not be here today.