Gaithersburg, MD United States
I thought to myself, "Look at you, strong, independent, and ready for new adventures on the East Coast!" I then turned and boarded my flight to Maryland. I ran through checklists in my mind. All my belongings had already been shipped, and I'd sold everything else. My daughter's last day of school was the following week, and her one-way ticket was booked, check! Keisha asked me to text her as soon as I landed. Keisha, the then-new love of my life. I'd met her at a Mac certification class that my company wanted me to take. I'd asked her for help in class. I thought that with her help, I'd pass that class. It was innocent, no pickup game or anything. This woman was so intelligent. I've never met anyone that loved to research and simply learn as much as she did, and boy, was she striking. I found myself drawn to her more and more each day. So, I flew back home, and some time passed. We kept in touch for several months. You know, video calls, long nights on the phone, really getting to know each other. Eventually, we decided we'd had enough of the long-distance and made the decision to move in together.
It took me a few months to adjust from living in Texas to living on the East Coast, but like I always told myself, "Lilly, you got this!" Everything had seemed to be going in the right direction. I made some friends, and I got a great offer for a great job paying me more than I'd ever been paid before. I thought I was on a roll. Some months later, my brother called and was pretty upset on the phone. He told me that my mother was really sick. She'd had three seizures and was now in a coma. I was devastated! A week later, I flew down to Texas to be by my mother's side. My mother was my hero. You see, my mother was a “guerrera,” a warrior. She'd battled cancer, diabetes, and 13 years on dialysis until I donated my kidney for her just a year earlier. Thankfully, she'd recovered a couple of weeks later, and I flew back home.
I then noticed an onset of something. It felt like a cold with a little fatigue, GI symptoms, migraines, and nausea, lots and lots of nausea. I thought I had some sort of bug until my legs began to feel weak, and I almost fell down the stairs in my apartment. That was it, I'd had enough! I made an appointment with the first available primary care physician. During that appointment, he asked me typical questions regarding my medical history. I told him that I'd donated a kidney a year ago to my mother. He ran a few labs, and I went home. A couple of days later, the doctor tells me that my creatinine was dangerously high, twice the normal range. He asked me to come back for additional labs. The second lab results came in, and apparently, my kidney was getting worse. He referred me to a nephrologist who ran my labs the following week. He literally told me to go from his office straight to the ER. I spent a week in the hospital where they ran all sorts of labs but couldn't figure out how I had gone into kidney failure. Kidney failure? They decided to biopsy my kidney and sent me home. A few days passed and my nephrologist called me to discuss my biopsy. They'd found some cancer cells in my kidney, and he wanted me to see an oncologist/hematologist. I thought, “Wait, did he say cancer?” Two days later I was sitting in a room getting a bone marrow biopsy and labs drawn. The oncologist told me that I seemed to have a type of blood cancer but needed to wait for the lab results. The doctor called me the next day to make an appointment for a follow-up. I anxiously went, but to be honest, I just knew this all had to be some cosmic joke. It was like I was waiting for someone to say that they'd made a mistake in the labs. The doctor then turned to me and said that the lab results confirmed that I had multiple myeloma (MM), a type of blood cancer. Apparently, this type of cancer could affect your bones and even your kidneys. The last thing the doctor told me was that I would need to prepare. "This would be a marathon, not a sprint." Suddenly it all made sense. All of the symptoms I'd experienced, the sudden kidney failure. He told me that we needed to start treatment immediately and took me on a tour of the cancer center. I remember thinking that it was all so surreal. What about my daughter? I wanted to see her go to her high school prom and graduation. Would I miss out on that? Who would love and nurture her the way her Mommy would? It was all so overwhelming, and it suddenly all hit me at once. I just began to cry. I was walking around being introduced to everyone, trying to smile, but streams of tears were just falling. This can't be real. Everything moved pretty quickly from there. I started my first round of chemotherapy the next day and twice a week thereafter.
Chemo sucked. I mean, I was always tired, but I pushed through. After all, I had tons of love and fight in me. I was a “guerrera” like my mother. A year goes by with nausea, migraines, and random skin infections. My MM numbers had gotten low enough to have a stem cell transplant. This would be necessary to push me into remission. So, while preparing for the stem cell transplant, I still managed to get engaged, buy a house, and get married the day before I was admitted to the hospital. Unfortunately, I was admitted in the middle of a pandemic, so I couldn't have any visitors. I was going to have to go through the stem cell transplant process alone. The stem cell transplant was rough physically due to the chemo. I felt absolutely depleted. However, what I wanted the most was my family by my side. Even if I'd felt too sick to speak, I just felt so alone. I then lost my hair, and my skin tone was different, but I'd made it through. I even got to ring a bell on my last day there, but the marathon continued.
It was time to rebuild again and get on the UNOS list for a new kidney. By this time, I'd been on dialysis for two years. A month ago, I was told that I would begin the transplant process. They told me that since I'd donated a kidney, I would be at the top of the list. But what did that mean exactly? Well, I'd soon find out because last week the transplant team called me to let me know there was a kidney available. Twenty-four hours later I was in surgery.
So, now we're all caught up, but this is certainly not it for me. You see, I'm in the marathon of my life, and I'm running the hell out of this thing! I am excited to share my story because sometimes we are placed in situations where we're uncomfortable, we don't know what to do or where to turn. My advice ― just push through the good, the bad, and the ugly. Try to love and laugh a lot and keep a good support system around you. Believe me, you'll be a badass warrior for it!