It’s treatable. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, that is. I have a 90% chance of surviving. It’s like winning the cancer lottery, they say!
That’s more or less how I’ve told family and friends that I have “it” in the past week. It’s been easier to sprinkle some sugar on the exceptionally crappy lump of coal the universe gave me 6 days before Christmas.
Obviously, I feel lucky to have a type of “it” that I know I can fight. Most people beat it and go on to live long and magical lives. There’s just that one tiny little hurdle we all gotta jump. Chemotherapy.
But wait. I should probably let you know how this all started. In June of 2015, my husband and I moved to Los Angeles after a lifetime of New York City living. This was a huge deal for me. I had lived on the same city block for most of my life. I knew every inch of my neighborhood. I love familiarity and routine. And that’s exactly why I needed to get the hell out of there. I was 29 years old with no kids and an awesome husband – there’d be no better time to pack up our tiny apartment and move out West.
It’s easy to reminisce about the move as if little elves helped us pack while they braided my hair and nothing went wrong (it always does and my goodness it did). The insurmountable anxiety I felt in New York all but melted away once we landed in LA. The sun was shining, our dog survived the flight, and I started a new job in 2 days. How lucky!
Fast forward 2 months. I was now working the most emotionally draining job I had ever experienced. I was sleeping no more than 4 hours a night, I was eating Panda Express weekly, and I would spontaneously burst into tears at my desk. But so was everybody else and we were all in it together! Right, guys?! YAY, camaraderie!
And then I felt some lumps right above my collarbone. “Oh stress, you pesky little bugger,” I said, “there you go with your annoying self, bringing on a psychosomatic episode.” A quick trip to the local urgent care eased my mind and got me a z-pak since it was “probably an infection.” Sweet!
Once that job ended and my life was my own once again, I made an appointment with my brand new PCP. It was now April 2016 and I was officially panicked that I had two swollen lymph nodes that had showed no signs of waning. My doctor didn’t seem concerned (this would become a running theme with her) but sent me for an X-ray to confirm what was happening at the base of my neck. An X-ray led to an ultrasound, which led to a fine needle biopsy. During that month, I was an emotional wreck. All I could think about was how in the hell would I ever be able to afford to be sick? How could I tell my mom?! What would this do to my marriage?
Right after that biopsy, where I could feel a giant needle extract cells from nodes in my right clavicle region, I went to the bathroom and cried for 10 minutes.
Dr. Aloof, staying true to herself, called me two weeks later to tell me the results were non-diagnostic and that I should come back only if I became symptomatic. Let that sink in for a bit. My doctor was telling me to come back when I had symptoms that meant I had full blown cancer. Well, I’m the idiot who accepted her results, hoping exercise and healthy living would restore me to the lump-free lady I had always been.
Until the nodes got tender and I realized I was being foolish by not pressing for more answers. So in October, back I went to my doctor’s office, this time loaded with an extra dose of sass, to see a different MD. He immediately told me I should calm down because I couldn’t possibly have lymphoma! My blood was perfect! I was only 30! “Oh wait, this X-ray from back in April shows lymph nodes in your chest, too.” WHAAAAAAAAAT?!
His recommendation? He didn’t think it was that big a deal, but if it made me sleep better at night (these are all things he actually said) then he would order a CT scan. “Sign me up,” I said, “cut me open if you have to!” “Oh we won’t need to do that,” the mistaken doctor replied.
About a week after my CT scan, Dr. Aloof called me again. This time I could hear the panic in her voice. She was referring me to a Hematologist/Oncologist because a specialist needed to take it from here. At this point, I had convinced myself I was healthy as could be, besides the extra taco weight I hadn’t been able to shake off, so going to a cancer doctor didn’t sound completely terrifying. Until I got there and all the signage reminded me that I was, in fact, at a cancer center.
It was at that cancer center where I finally met a doctor who cared about my issues. A doctor who listened to me and wanted to find out what this was so I could move on with my life. She ordered an excisional biopsy so she could examine one of my lymph nodes under a microscope. And on December 7th I had surgery to remove one of my OG lumps. This weird, long period in my life was almost over.
Except it wasn’t. On December 19th I found out I had Stage IIA Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. “Is that the good kind?,” I asked having seen that Curb Your Enthusiasm episode. “Excuse me, the better kind, I mean?” “It’s treatable,” said my oncologist. My oncologist. Oy.
Essentially, I have a treatable form of blood cancer. It affects the lymphatic system and stage II means it’s present in two or more lymph node areas on the same side of the diaphragm. For me, it’s just in two areas: the right clavicle region and chest.
So back to chemo. I start January 6th aka Three Kings’ Day. In my household, the Epiphany always signaled the official end of Christmas. And in 2017, for me, it officially marks the beginning of my fight with cancer. I truly don’t know if I’m more terrified of what I know could come to be, or if I’m more scared of the unknown. See, chemo has this funny way of attacking all of us in a different way. The 4 different chemicals (known as ABVD) I’ll be receiving bi-weekly can’t tell the good cells from the bad so my insides will go through a trauma I can’t fully comprehend. My heart will weaken because of the Doxorubicin (aka Adriamycin, the “A” in my chemo cocktail). My lungs will be destroyed thanks to Bleomycin (the “B”). I’ll become exceptionally puffy due to the steroids I’ll need to keep breathing well. A cough will be cause for concern. A temperature of 101.5 could lead to hospitalization. So yeah, you could say I’m petrified.
Ultimately, neither I nor my doctors know how my body will accept treatment. What hurdles within this larger hurdle I’ll have to jump over. What I do know for certain is that I’ll never be the same person again.
I have never felt as much love as I have in the past two weeks. I’m overcome with comfort and warmth. I am grateful.
I’ll be using this blog as a form of therapy and as a way to update all the amazing humans in my life. And because I found other Hodgkin’s patients and survivors online, I hope this could become a source of info for others. Heads up: chemo brain is a real thing – google it! So let’s not be judgey when I start sounding like someone with a 6th-grade reading level.