I will never forget the terrifying phone call that started this journey of cancer. I was having a constant, rough cough throughout the day, everyday. I was not a smoker and nothing in my social or medical history suggested I should be coughing like I was. Thankfully I was in the process of changing my primary care doctor at the time and he ordered a chest X-ray to see what could be causing this cough. This test saved my life.
The phone call came when I was walking to my evening class. The nurse said that I had fluid around my lungs. Knowing my history and having my own background in biology (I was a biology minor for my undergraduate) and had worked in healthcare for 10 months, I knew instinctually something was horribly wrong.
After the x-ray, I got a CT scan. The radiologist was on site whenever I got the scan done and he said that I needed to see my primary care doctor immediatly. I drove over to my doctor’s office and my doctor sat me down and went over the radiologist’s notes, translating them into laymen’s terms as he read the report to me. He told me “I do not see how this is not cancer because of how quickly all your symptoms arose and the tumor showed up”. The tumor was between 4–6 inches large in diameter (about 10–15 cm) and lodged between my wind pipe and heart. This was why I was coughing so harshly and so frequently.
I was referred to a thoracic (deals with matters of the chest) surgeon and an oncologist. Two biopsies later (where they took fluid and tissue out of the tumor itself) and an MRI, I got diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Stage 2. I was diagnosed on October 10 2018.
I soon started chemotherapy. I do chemotherapy about once every 2 weeks. The “in between” weeks, I visit my oncologist to go over my labwork and discuss any new symptoms I develop. My hair has seriously thinned out (but not completely gone!) and my gums have ulcers on them. Chemotherapy causes me to be extremely fatigued (to the point of being virtually comatose) and nauseated. I also have much more sensitive skin and a small rash on my chest.
I was and am planned to have twelve chemotherapy sessions. I just finished number nine. I have had two pet scans. The pet scans have showed that the tumor is reacting as expected, which is severely shrinking between each pet scan. Once I am done with my chemotherapy, I will have to wait about a month before starting radiation. The radiation will destroy any cancer cells that managed to survive the chemotherapy.
My family was heartbroken when they learned about my cancer diagnosis, but hopeful, knowing I had a good and well respected oncologist within the cancer community. The only time I felt scared was with that phone call, concerning the x-ray. I try not to dwell on “why me?” because I figure only negative thoughts and feelings can come from that.
My cancer diagnosis has given me a new perspective about life as well. I see the birds in a new light. I savior that glass of water and taste of my favorite food. No 24/25 year old (since I was diagnosed at age 24 and am now 25) expects to be told “you have cancer”, so it certainly rocked my world. Most people expect “cancer” to be an “older person” disease (30s+), so it is really unsettling to get that diagnosis in your 20s.
My oncologist said given the nature of the location of my tumor (in my chest), I will now be at higher risk for other types of cancer in that general area (so esophagus, breast, stomach, liver, among others). The good news is that I do not have the “breast cancer gene” (BRCA1 and BRCA2), according to medical reports that have analyzed my DNA. The good news though is that for my specific type of cancer, I only have a 20% chance of it happening again in my life.