Hodgkin lymphoma (HL)
Prior to my diagnosis, I was a much-loved daughter to my parents, a dedicated dog mama to my Golden Retriever, a loyal friend, and an enthusiastic high school history teacher. After my diagnosis and seven-year battle with refractory Hodgkin lymphoma (HL), I was still all of those things and somehow so much more.
My entire world shifted in March 2014 when I was diagnosed with HL after six months of appointments and specialists that ended with a 5% chance of cancer and 95% probability of sarcoidosis. I was never really very good at odds. My diagnosis at 32 years old came on the heels of losing a dear friend to melanoma just seven months before, which made it all the more unsettling. Regardless, I knew that I would have to take action. And so, it began ― all the testing, chemo school, the long awkward pause after telling someone you had cancer, and all the other things that go along with navigating cancer. My hardest conversations, aside from my family and close friends, were with my students. I'll never forget having to tell a group of my seniors about my diagnosis after they had just lost a very close friend and classmate to cancer. I was candid, yet optimistic. That is still the approach I use with my students all these years later when I ask them to take additional precautions (prior to and during the pandemic) like hand sanitizing because of my weakened immune system. I worked through my first round of chemo, only missing a day for treatment every two weeks for those first few months. It helped keep me grounded and optimistic, especially on those days when it was hard. I felt like I was modeling resilience as I greeted them at my classroom door with a smile, donning my headscarf. And they showed compassion and kindness in those moments, as did my community of support.
I had to stop working temporarily once I discovered my refractory status and was set to have an autologous stem cell transplant. Unfortunately, I was never able to reach remission for this to take place, and by the time I had the option, it was no longer available. Over the course of several years, I had salvage chemo, radiation, an experimental clinical trial, and a host of complications. But it didn't waiver my spirit. Instead, I swore to live my best life. I reconnected with an old boyfriend from college who is now my husband. I took the time to be present in my life. I went on adventures and enjoyed the company of my friends and family. I took advantage of puppy snuggles and opportunities that came my way. I kept teaching right on through until the time came for me to have an unrelated donor bone marrow transplant in 2017.
I remember being terrified and hopeful simultaneously. This was my chance at lasting remission, and I was so grateful for the generosity and kindness of a complete stranger in Germany for saving my life. She and I have since become friends and plan to meet in the future (once Covid is no longer a lingering concern). I spent weeks preparing and packed as if I was moving into a new apartment at Brigham and Women's Hospital, where I would stay for the duration of my transplant. The isolation was hard, but I made fast friends with my medical team of doctors, PAs, and nurses. I had visits from my family and friends and cards from my colleagues and students to brighten my day. Plus, I had time to plan my upcoming wedding. The nine months after were much harder since you could only see visitors in masks (ironic now) and couldn't go out in public. Work was out of the question since I was teaching in a public-school setting. However, I found my footing and a routine and even asked to teach one of my classes online (before it was a thing). I was and am someone who needs to stay busy. I went back to teaching after nine months and was adjusting to my new normal.
Unfortunately, a year later I relapsed and needed a new game plan. But first I needed to move up my wedding and luckily our honeymoon. Within weeks of finding out the disappointing news, we went off to Europe for a honeymoon (before our wedding) of a lifetime. Touring London and Paris with my soon-to-be husband and love my life was just what I needed. We had a few months before I would start treatment again, so we upped our wedding date (where my local oncologist was in attendance), and on our first day as a married couple we headed off to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to figure out the next steps. Since then, I went back on immunotherapy and had radiation where the abscopal effect put me back in remission. I continued on immunotherapy for another year and have since been living my best life, none of which would have been possible without my amazing support system made up of my family, friends, medical team, and school community.
Cancer changed my perspective and my priorities. After my diagnosis, I am still a much-loved daughter to my parents, a dedicated dog mama to my Golden Retriever, a loyal friend, and an enthusiastic high school history teacher. But I am also a wife, a cancer survivor, a bone marrow transplant recipient, a member of an incredible community, a blogger, and a grateful human.