non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) & acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)
In 2019, knots started to appear on my neck and jawline. My face was also massively swollen. I was unrecognizable. I had difficulty breathing, and major parts of my body were swollen as well. After several tests and two surgeries, I was unexpectedly diagnosed with non-Hodgkin T-cell lymphoma (NHL). I was told that if the cancer had stages, I was considered stage 4.
I was 29 years old and employed as an elementary school teacher. I had to take an unpaid emergency leave of absence from work and was admitted to the hospital to begin chemotherapy treatment. After receiving intensive chemotherapy for about 2 months, I went into remission and was discharged from the hospital.
In 2020, I progressed to phase 2 of my treatment plan but experienced some complications. I then decided to briefly discontinue treatment due to the adverse physical and emotional impacts. I decided to work on my physical, mental, and emotional well-being. I engaged in physical activity and started receiving counseling/therapy. I was traumatized and did not have the opportunity to reflect and process all that happened.
A few months after discontinuing treatment, I went to the emergency room due to abdominal pain. I was admitted to the hospital for further testing. The doctors concluded that my cancer had returned. But this time, I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). I began receiving chemotherapy treatment as an outpatient. However, I found myself continually in and out of the hospital. My body was not responding well to the chemotherapy drugs, and as a result, I experienced more complications. Chemotherapy had become a blessing and a curse. I suffered intense pain, developed acute pancreatitis, lost a tremendous amount of weight (about 50 pounds), could no longer hold down or digest food, and my body was unable to absorb nutrients.
My treatment plan was modified several times, however, there was still an underlying issue that no one could detect or pinpoint. In 2021, I was admitted into the hospital yet again. This time, I ended up staying for 3 months! I was being closely monitored, and the idea of surgery was discussed. I was discouraged, lost my desire to eat, and had no desire to live. I accepted the fact that this was my life now, hopeless. But deep down inside, I knew I wanted to live. I just did not know how it was going to happen. It was in these moments that I had to learn how to exercise my faith in God.
I agreed to receive gastrointestinal surgery, though there was no guarantee that the doctors would find what they were looking for. Thank God, they did! They went in, discovered the underlying issue, performed a bypass, and reconnected my intestines. I got my miracle!
Since that surgery, I was able to eat and digest food again. I was also excited about life and encouraged to dream again. I gained weight and became the healthiest I have ever been. I continued with treatment and progressed through the next phases.
Fast forward to 2023, I am healed of cancer, finishing up my treatment regimen, and publishing a book about my health journey to encourage other patients, their families, and anyone who may face adversity. I am truly thankful for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) and the difference being made in the lives of many patients. As a classroom teacher, my first and second-grade students have participated in raising money each year for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. We have won first and third place for the most money raised in the entire school. As I hung my award-winning banner on my classroom wall, I never thought I would eventually become a recipient of those contributions. While receiving treatment, I could return to work.
The social worker in the hospital was able to apply to receive funding from LLS. I was approved and received a check in the mail. With it, I was able to pay for transportation, buy food and basic necessities, and cover some medical expenses. I look back now and realize how my students and I were not only changing the lives of others, but we were also sowing seeds for me to reap the harvest in my own time of need. I am so grateful. Thank you!