stage 4 diffuse large B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (DLBCL)
Being a cancer survivor was never on my bucket list.
In August 2022, my life changed completely. After a few months of struggling with my health, I made a trip to the doctor's office for a second opinion on a recurring cough and chest pains I'd had for a few months. After numerous blood tests and CT scans, the “L word,” lymphoma, entered the chat. At that point, I still didn't connect the dots. I just thought I was sick, and once I received treatment, I'd be fine, and this "sickness" would go away, except it wasn't that simple. My "sickness" progressively worsened preventing me from doing simple tasks such as eating, singing, walking, talking, and sleeping. After an inconclusive biopsy result, which caused a collapsed lung may I add, this was brought up to my thoracic doctor. I was immediately booked in for emergency surgery, a bronchoscopy, which not only diagnosed me with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) but also diagnosed a growing mass in my chest that surrounded my heart and was rapidly invading my lung (the same lung that collapsed). I was functioning with one working lung, a high heart rate, and every symptom related to lymphoma (night sweats, losing over 30 pounds of body weight, fatigue, itchy skin/rashes) that could be possible.
That whole process took a month, and I finally met my oncologist and the Edmonton Cross Cancer team in October 2022. My family and I went through the motions of the first consultation and did a few tests, a PET scan, and a CT scan. We were then called back to the office immediately. I was stage 4 with only a few months to live if I didn't start treatment immediately. Because of this, my chemotherapy treatment was very aggressive with a cycle every three weeks for six months in hopes of stopping my stage 4 diffuse large B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (DLBCL). My life depended on it. My cancer affected not just the lymph nodes in my neck and chest but every possible organ, quickly reducing my body's chance of living.
So, the treatment journey began with fine print warnings that became very bold and italicized by the second round of treatment. My hair started falling out in clumps, peripheral neuropathy set in (i.e., I lost feeling in my fingers and toes causing it to be challenging to write, button up my jackets, and even walk as my balance was off), mouth sores were so common that it felt weird not having them, my taste and sense of smell were nonexistent, and a day that went without a midday, three-hour nap was a success. And these were just the side effects of my R-CHOP chemotherapy treatment, not the side effects from prednisone that made my face go round, my already lousy eyesight get worse, and dizziness. All side effects may never go away. Then it all got better. I was able to sing again and walk for 15 minutes without getting lightheaded and short of breath. I was able to eat without feeling nauseated. Things were looking great. Until it wasn't. Again. Around my fourth cycle, I was in and out of the hospital, a week at a time, for various side effects and unexplained infections. The worst was a seven-day ICU stay with a dangerously high fever that triggered an elevated heart rate, weakness, pericarditis (fluid around the heart), and poor blood work. This infection postponed my last chemotherapy treatment by two weeks due to the need for antibiotics to help my body fight whatever was attacking it.
Until this point, my mental health was "strong" (as much as it could be for someone battling stage 4 cancer), but that last hospital stay really broke me. The frantic environment of the hospital, being woken up at odd hours of the night for blood work, food that I couldn't eat because it wasn't "cancer patient-friendly," and simply just missing home and my family.
I was finally able to receive my last chemotherapy treatment but was too scared to celebrate. I didn't want to get my hopes up, but I pushed through. Things started to change slowly. I was able to sing in the shower again, open a jam jar, and return to working in person. My hair began to grow. I wasn't as exhausted and could stay awake during the day. I could taste and smell again.
As a cancer patient, you are told that you must take time to recover in between treatments, but the true recovery and rebuilding process starts the day you become cancer-free.
On March 23, 2023, my stage 4 DLBCL went into remission.