I graduated from Virginia Tech in May of last year, with high hopes for the next few years of the start of my career. Like the majority of college graduates entering today’s economy, I was a little scared of what the future held, anxiety ridden of the new responsibilities that come with adulthood and the “real world” (Wait… you mean I actually have to pay back this $20,000 in student loans?) I started a graduate program to earn an MPH, bought a car and landed (“landed” as in applied for 110 jobs and heard back from an overwhelming 3) a full-time job doing exactly what I want to be doing, all within about 4 months. I was busy to say the least, and managed to complain about the stresses of what I now know to be a blessed life.
I was running on autopilot up until December, when I got incredibly ill with what I figured was the flu. I missed about a week of work and classes, before I realized that something more serious was going on. I finally dragged myself to the doctor, and was diagnosed with mono. I woke up with a fever every single day for 3 weeks straight, I lost 13 pounds in less than a month, and just barely made it through my first semester of grad school. Mono is AWFUL. If you’ve ever had it, you know how bad it is, if you haven’t, feel lucky. It lasted for about a month and a half, just in time for the start date of my new job.
I was finally on the mend, feeling better, adjusting to a new job, new classes and even signed up for my first marathon, when I started to feel off again. In late January, I noticed I had been unreasonably tired, I lacked the energy to run after work, and had a weird rash on my body that I couldn’t see or feel. I was sitting at my desk at work, when I rested my hand on my neck and felt a massive lump. I thought it was strange, but didn’t think much of it, mostly because I attributed it to managing to choke on toothpaste while rushing out the door that morning (clumsy for the win!) A few days went by when I decided to mention it to my supervisor who also happened to be a nurse practitioner (the perks of working in healthcare). She didn’t seem too phased, and attributed it to a late symptom of the mono. However, per her recommendation, and out of a gut feeling, I decided to be proactive and have it checked out.
I was ordered to get a sonogram, which showed I had enlarged lymph nodes on the left side of my neck. Again, I thought, enlarged lymph nodes, what’s the big deal? From there, purely out of precaution, my doctor decided I should have a lymph node needle biopsy and a chest scan. I had the scan done first, which was really the start of this out-of-body-experience where your body belongs to machines and doctors more than it does to you, but we’ll get there later. The surgeon who was to conduct my biopsy, reviewed my results with me a few days later. The CT showed that I had enlarged lymph nodes in my chest, my neck and under my left armpit. This time, I got worried. I knew enough, and I had done enough research this time to know something serious could be wrong.
What was supposed to be a quick procedure in office to check the largest lymph node on my neck, turned into scheduling my first major procedure for the following Friday. The surgeon explained to me that he had to remove the node surgically and send it to a pathologist to determine its make-up, something that couldn’t simply be done with a small sample drawn from a needle.
I had my first surgery on March 7th of 2014, and was supported and surrounded by my family, amazing boyfriend (Zac) and great friends. I remember laughing beforehand, and waking up with apple juice and graham crackers. Slightly like a hazy memory from pre-school. The pain was minimal, and I had good painkillers anyways. The week that followed, waiting for my results to come back, was probably the hardest, most stressful, longest week of my life (I’m usually dramatic, but this is pretty accurately conveyed). The internet provided more information than I would have liked, and researching to diagnose myself somehow seemed like a logical solution to pass the time (don’t do it).
Finally, Thursday arrived, and I finally knew what I’d be facing. My boyfriend, parents and I walked into an empty, sterile waiting room and sat down until my name was called. I brought Zac back with me knowing he was the one person I could handle hearing any news with, good or bad. The surgeon walked in and it must have only taken him 3 seconds to say: “I’m sorry to have to tell you, you have Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I wish I had better news….” I assume the rest of what he said was comforting and great advice, but my mind was already on the whole I have cancer part. I sat politely listening to him, but in reality I just wanted him to leave the room so I could give Zac a big bear hug. Finally, I thanked him, he left the room and looked up at Zac with tears in my eyes. He came over and did exactly what I needed, wrapped me in his arms and told me we were going to get through this.
The past few weeks leading up to my first chemotherapy treatment, have been a blur of medical exams, two additional surgeries and most importantly, a lot of love and support. I have the most amazing parents, boyfriend family and friends I could EVER ask for. Which, leads me to why I’m starting this blog. For some of you, reading this may simply be to gossip about “that girl from high school who has cancer now”, for others, it’ll be to follow my experience and offer your love and support, and hopefully, for some it’ll offer comfort and inspiration for whatever battle you may be facing, big or small.
I’m not unlucky because I got cancer, I’m lucky because I’m young, strong, incredibly determined and have enough love to get me through it. This is the beginning of the biggest fight of my life, but for those of you who know me, you know I’m a damn fighter.