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Inspirational Stories

Melinda

non-Hodgkin lymphoma (PMBCL)

Santa Clarita, CA

I am currently 30 years old and was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (PMBCL) when I was 27, almost 28 years old.

I was pregnant the day I was diagnosed, luckily 39 weeks, and ended up giving birth the same day I found out I had a massive tumor in my mediastinum. I was biopsied the next day and had to leave my 5-day-old baby and 2-year-old to go to the emergency room for a life-threatening emergency called svc syndrome.

I am currently two years cancer-free and spend a lot of time connecting with fellow lymphoma patients, many of whom were diagnosed after me and come to me for advice for dealing with cancer and the aftermath. I actually just donated my wig to a woman with the same cancer who is also pregnant!

I love to write and write this about my experience first finding out about my tumor:

It's not a pretty view, looking around the ER from your gurney, especially when you are so used to being on the other side, taking care of the patient on the gurney. I found myself on the gurney on August 24, 2019, when I was 39-weeks pregnant, 27 years young, after just being told there was "something" on the chest X-ray they just took. My nurse brain kicked in. Pulmonary embolism? Pneumonia? Pleural effusion? Pneumothorax? But none of these things made sense. I had had a difficult but overall healthy pregnancy, and none of my diagnoses added up. What about a lung tumor? No. Just no. There is no way a healthy 27-year-old like myself could have lung cancer. As I pondered, I was concerned but still hopeful that it was something minor, something that would be a quick fix, and I and my baby were going to be just fine. Then I would glance up at the monitor that was recording my heart rate and rhythm, oxygen saturation, and blood pressure. Yep. There was definitely a problem. My heart rate hadn't gone below 120, and when I would lay on my left side it would go up to 140. My blood pressure was hanging out around the 150's-160’s systolic and 90-100 diastolic. If you are reading this and not in the medical field, all you need to know is this is no bueno. 

Luckily, my complaint to the triage nurse of chest pain and shortness of breath got me back really quickly, and it wasn’t long before I was now waiting for the results of the CT angiogram. The minutes felt like hours as I waited for the results. My OB doctor ran into the room like a tornado (as he usually does) and immediately started rambling and talking a mile a minute (as he usually does). What I remember from what he said was basically, “Good news, it’s not a P.E., blah, blah, you do have a mass, blah, blah, we will induce you today, blah, blah, I’m going upstairs to perform an emergency C-section, we’ll talk later, bye.” Wait, what?! Did he say a mass? Like a tumor? He tells me this and just leaves? I immediately pressed the call button and asked the nurse to speak to the ER physician. He came in and explained that they did find a mass in my mediastinum (the space behind the breast bone between the lungs and heart). and there are many things it could be. He focused on the more desired types of tumors, which were benign, and didn’t talk about the big C word or anything negative. I’ve been on that side, the other side of the bed. The side where a lot of doctors tend to present things in a way not to worry you. Let’s be honest, they sugarcoat it. I realized this as he was speaking, and the only question I could think to ask was, “How big is it?” Then his face changed. His expression grew more concerned, and he stated calmly, “Eleven centimeters.” Which I later found out was actually 12x11x10. Yikes. 

Of course, I was panicked, but at the same time, I felt so validated. Months before I was complaining about my heart rate ALWAYS being elevated even when I was at rest. Weeks before I was complaining that I just couldn’t breathe and actually told my doctor (half-joking) that I was starting to think I had a lung tumor. Just hours before, I was listening to my own lungs with my stethoscope, not hearing anything on the right side and asking myself, “Am I crazy?” They explained I would be sent up to the maternity floor where I would be induced so that I could deliver my baby and ensure I could get the tumor biopsied ASAP. After that, let’s just say shit got real. And then began my “journey” on the other side of the bed.

P.S. I hate the word “journey” when describing someone’s experience with cancer. A journey sounds fun, positive, and beautiful sights to see, maybe. While a journey usually is life-changing, it is definitely not the word that comes to mind for me.

Melinda