Your body begins to hate itself and you don’t really know why. Although hearing the diagnosis that you have cancer is something you never want to hear, in some ways it was a relief. For a few months I had not been feeling myself and had kept putting off checking it out, as my first semester of college, in a non-optimal dorm, eating dining hall food, and adjusting to a completely new climate for the first time in my life. The acne on my face began to shift to a rashy outbreak, I reached a level of fatigue I could not believe, the most terrible cough left me out of breath and exhausted, my hair became wirey, my knees ached, and a weird color rash began on my ribs. Each side effect was too small to individually check in with. The few times I went to doctors for different things, my diagnosis completely changed. “You are not taking care of your allergies and asthma,” “It is just a part of college,” “finals stress,” “bronchitis.”
The Holidays had me exhausted. Coming off finals, harder than expected, watching my grades come in, gift-buying, being home, and other traditions kept me tired. My mom, Matt, and I ventured to visit our family in Fort Collins: my aunt and uncle and my four cousins, now five since my oldest cousin is married. With sweets and other goodies abundant, we played games and caught up. I was excited to gift my cousins crazy, individually picked out socks. My mom and Matt surprised all of us cousins with Nerf Guns- let war begin. It was tremendous fun and I was enjoying myself until I started coughing! Soon I was at the sink, throwing up because I could not stop. I knew it was time to see a doctor again. I just wanted to feel better. On Christmas Eve, we journeyed to Urgent Care. Pro tip: if you need to get a doctor fast, show up less than an hour before Urgent Care closes on a Holiday! The doctor quickly looked me over and listened to my breathing, his diagnosis was that I had probably had a sinus infection throughout the semester and my lungs and bronchial tubes were still recovering. With that, he prescribed steroids to bring down inflammation.
A long nap and attendance to a Christmas Eve service and Indian food for dinner concluded my day. Steroids make people snappy- I was not in the highest spirits going into the Holiday.
I celebrated Christmas with my family. Each day I felt better and I enjoyed going up to ski with family friends at Breckenridge and A-Basin. My boyfriend from Maryland came out to visit for a week and enjoyed being a tourist in Colorado for a week. Wanting to see as much as possible, we skied, snowshoed in Rocky Mountain National Park, saw Wyoming, ate at Casa Bonita, walked through Old Town, and much more. I was exhausted. The cough started again. Spending a Monday with my stepdad after the crazy by going to the gym to play basketball, I expressed my wish to go back to Urgent Care thinking I needed more steroids or possibly antibiotics.
Going through my vitals and explaining my symptoms to the nurse left me feeling awkward. I had no fever, no sniffles, no other major symptoms. The doctor looked me over, checked my heart and breathing, and felt my neck. She seemed unsure of what was wrong but determined to figure it out. I appreciated the shift in energy and when she suggested a series of tests and scans, I did not hesitate because I needed to get better.
First, a swab up my nose for whopping cough- it made me cry it was so uncomfortable and awful. Second, a blood draw for tests- easier than donating blood. Third, an x-ray of my chest- the same as when I was diagnosed with bronchitis in elementary school. Fourth, an ultrasound of my neck- the jelly warm and the room dark. After the fourth test, I asked if I could have food since it was a few hours past our skipped lunch. They said I should be good to go and I said I wanted Smashburger. Matt ran out to get me the food and I completed my fifth procedure- a nebulizer. With a paper bag in hand, Matt was about to deliver my food when the doctor stopped him and said I needed more tests done before I could eat.
The doctor came into room number six at the urgent care on Harmony and Timberline. Sitting down, she explained that there was a mass in my chest and in my neck believing it to be lymphoma. As she kept talking, I finally asked, “What is lymphoma?” Briefly she explained it as a blood cancer causing masses of lymph nodes, so I cried. They were to send me in for a CT scan. She left and a male nurse walked in and poorly poked an IV into the crook of my arm (later I learned that is a big no-no and understandably so because it was painful). I kept crying. Escorted to yet another room, I sat in a prep chair crying. A nurse came up to me with a tissue box and asked what was wrong. I told her they found a mass and that is why I had to have CT scan.
I understand this is hard news to hear and everyone wants to do their best to provide comfort even when they are incapable of feeling comfort themselves but some things are incredibly unhelpful to hear like:
“I am sure it is nothing.”
Grateful to be out of her presence, I completed the CT scan. The absolute worse part is the dye. The nurses had forgotten to tell me the most common side effect- immediately after it is pushed through the ivy you feel like you are about to wet your pants. With a slip of squirmy-discomfort they explained the feeling as being a normal symptom.
Following was a blur. I called my dad, he would come down the next day for an already scheduled oncology appointment. My mom was dropped off at urgent care from work. She was understandably worked up. The plan for the night had been to meet my aunt, uncle, and cousin for dinner in our neighborhood. If it had been anyone else, we would have cancelled but this was the family who had someone currently fighting a blood cancer.
The next day I had my first oncology appointment with Dr. Schuster, the same doctor my aunt has. A biopsy would be needed to guarantee the diagnosis and accurately treat it. The cancer journey began: overwhelming amounts of information, dozens of medical professionals, questions, answers, planning, scheduling, etc. There was a small chance it could not be cancer but from what it sounded like, Dr. Schuster believed it to be Hodgkins.
I was then to see Dr. Lewis, an oncology surgeon, the next day. The big surprise of the appointment was discussing port placement. Without being officially diagnosed with cancer, they wanted to place a PowerPort (a specific line of ports for chemo) during the same operation as the biopsy. I found this upsetting. With one nurse even saying, “If it is not needed it can be removed.” Putting faith in doctors and people I hardly knew, the plan was to do both.
Later, I will write a post on my operation.
The official results came in the next week after running genetics on the cells. My diagnosis: Nodular Sclerosis Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Treatment: six cycles of ABVD chemotherapy, twelve appointments every other week through my newly placed PowerPort- Sissy-B.