Hodgkin lymphoma (HL)
I often said that cancer showed up at the worst time for me. I was finishing my first year of medical school and was in the midst of a very busy season finishing all the planning for my upcoming wedding. But honestly, is there ever a good time for cancer to show up? Would it have been better five years later as a busy, working doc? Or even later on with kids to take care of? Likely not. The truth is cancer is never a welcome visitor. It disrupts everything and turns life upside down. When you suddenly lose your health and have to fight for your life, everything shifts.
I was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) after a year and a half of mild health issues that had finally become severe enough to warrant the testing that led to my diagnosis. I had experienced weight loss, night sweats, and mild illnesses for over a year, but it wasn’t until my tumor was large enough to cause difficulty breathing, shortness of breath when walking, lymphedema on my left side, and chest pain that doctors gave me testing that led to my diagnosis. I was shocked and devastated, especially when I found out my treatment would result in me losing my hair and walking down the aisle a bald bride.
Doctors advised us to call off the wedding, as being around large crowds is not advised once chemo knocks your immune cells to zero. But we kept it on― and despite the many challenges ― still found so much love, hope, and joy in that season.
Everyone’s experience with cancer and treatment is unique. To be honest, I went into it overconfident. I overestimated my own strength and underestimated both how awful I would feel and how long it would take me to recover. After all, I was a strong, determined person who understood medicine and had a high pain tolerance. But the treatment wreaked total havoc on my body and mind. I was hospitalized several times due to drug reactions, some being emergent. I truly felt sicker than I had ever been in my life for a good eight months straight. I had excruciating bone and joint pain, nerve pain in my mouth and teeth, severe nausea and vomiting, and a multitude of other issues. I had brain fog, fatigue, weakness, painful skin rashes, and nerve damage. At times I had to use a wheelchair. I gained weight from the medications and lack of activity and lost not only my hair but my eyebrows and eyelashes. I reluctantly took time off from med school when I was too sick to continue. At times I felt I wouldn’t get through it. I can’t tell you how often I cried, wishing I didn’t feel sick and could just have my old life back.
I am learning now, three years later, to accept that this is part of my story. I saw firsthand that we can't control everything that happens to us, but we can control how we respond. I choose to respond by sharing my experience to encourage, help, and inspire others ― including other young adults experiencing cancer. As much as I hate that it happened and don’t like how it still affects my life, I choose to focus on the good it has given me and the lessons cancer brought. I appreciate the small things and value each day and every breath more than I did before. I am grateful for my body and mind and all the amazing things they can do. I have seen that real love and friendship are not dependent on appearances. And I know that we are so much stronger and more resilient than we can possibly imagine. I can’t erase this part of my story, and I no longer try to. Instead, I focus on writing the next chapter.