Hodgkin lymphoma (HL)
I am a cancer mom. I WAS a cancer mom. My youngest son, Will, was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma (HL) at age 19 in April of 2019. He, his dad, and I were beyond shocked when we heard the news that the swollen lymph nodes that came up out of the blue one March morning were indeed HL. We didn't really know anybody personally that had it. We didn't know what exactly all the words meant at that moment in time, but we knew it wasn't what we had planned for our youngest son.
Will's dad is the sheriff in our small rural county, and I am a mental health counselor. We thought we had seen a lot throughout our careers, but nothing we had ever witnessed or experienced could have prepared us to hear that our child had cancer. Will is the absolute strongest person we will ever know. He took a moment to process his diagnosis, and then he hit it head-on. He was a champion during treatment. He carried on with his job and his life. He rang the bell at the end of chemo, breezed through radiation, and was ready to move on with college, dating, and work. However, in early 2020, mid-global pandemic, he learned during a routine scan that his cancer had returned. This time, he already knew he was headed for a bone marrow transplant. We thought we'd just hop over to Nashville, get it done, and move on in time for his brother's wedding in October. Chemo and cancer hijacked his plans.
Getting septic is not on any 20-year-old's top 10 list. However, spending a week at the inpatient transplant unit at Vanderbilt, we were able to get a sneak peek of where he'd get his transplant and who would be taking care of him. Fast forward a couple of months, he packed his bag and his guitar, and we packed up our cars to begin the process of the bone marrow transplant. We took a lot of stuff, moved to Nashville, and settled in. We were greeted by the best nurses, staff, and doctors. They took us in and made us feel right at home every single day of the 45 days we were there. Will, again, was a true warrior, fighting through chemo, fevers, hospital stays, losing his hair, eyebrows, and beard, AGAIN. As caregivers, his dad and I were scared to death. We were trying not to smother him all while checking his temp 25 times a day. There were times I wanted to pack up and retreat back to our home in the foothills of East Tennessee and forget this whole thing. His strength, his unwavering faith, and his perseverance kept us all going. He never once complained about chemo, radiation, the transplant, or even our helicopter parenting.
Through all of this, we have met some wonderful people, other patients, and other parents who have inspired and helped guide us through the bone marrow transplant process. We learned shortly after Will's cancer came back that there were others in our community who had been through this same process. They directed us to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) website where Will was able to receive some financial support. I spent hours poring over the website for information and resources. We are constantly encouraged by the inspirational stories of others who have walked in our shoes.
I look at Will now, a little short of 18 months post-transplant, and see what a wonderful story of survival he has to tell. He is healthy. He is happy. He is strong. We hope that his story can be helpful to someone else who might be dealing with blood cancer, any cancer for that matter, or a bone marrow transplant.
Story by his mother, Stephanie