Everyone has a story. Life itself is one big story with several different chapters, several different characters, several different plots, and outcomes. My life is filled with many different stories. This is my cancer survivor story.
For almost a year, I suffered from fevers of 101, 102, 103, and sometimes 104, drenching night sweats that caused me to get up in the middle of the night to change my clothes, and sleep on towels, and after losing over 20 pounds in less than two months I was finally diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Stage IIIB on July 24, 2002. I remember this day like it was yesterday as it was my dad’s birthday. I was very proactive in trying to find out what and why I was suffering from these symptoms for so long. I had seen my primary care physician several different times. However, every time I went it was either during “cold season,” or he told me that I was feeling the way I did due to being overweight (I was over 230 pounds at the time), or that stress was causing my symptoms. He had been my doctor since I was a kid. So, I trusted him. As time went on I did my best to live life as normal since my new normal was walking around this world with a constant feeling of the flu. However, such an existence can catch up with you. I had started missing a lot of days of work, 17 days on and off to be exact. The absenteeism did not go unnoticed by my employer at the time and I even got, “the talk” at one point. So, I decided to force myself into work, day in and day out, with a thermometer in hand to prove that I was a walking hot box at a temperature of 101 to 104. One afternoon I couldn’t focus very well at work, took my temperature, showed my supervisor the 103 degree result, and requested to go home early. I called my mom that day. She is a nurse and worked down the street from my office. She asked me to stop in on my way home. Once I arrived, the Infectious Disease doctor that she worked for asked if he could examine me. While in the examining room I go over the details of my symptoms as he is feeling my neck. I was not familiar with this part of any examination with my primary care physician, so I stop and ask him, “Doctor, what are you doing?” He looks at me strangely and replies, “I am feeling your neck for lymph nodes.” I had no idea what he was talking about. I digest the information for a bit then reply, “Why?” He stops again and says to me, “Jemma, based on your symptoms and what I feel in your neck right now, it seems like you have a text book case of Lymphoma.” At that point my head is spinning from trying to understand what all of that meant. I had no idea what lymphoma was. He noticed my confusion as I ask him, “Doctor, what is Lymphoma?” He takes a deep breath and pats me on the knee and says that he will be right back. I was left alone to try process the information. I had never heard of the word and at that moment had no idea how this was going to affect me. Moments later my mom comes into the examination room with tears streaming down her face. I think to myself, “Oh God, I must be dying…” I sure felt like it the last few months, like a soul just waiting to be taken. I barely had any energy left in me. I ask my mom, “What is lymphoma?” She takes a deep breath and in between choking sobs says three words no parent should ever have to tell their child, “You, have cancer…” From there I was admitted into the hospital, had a lymph node biopsy the next day, and was officially diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma stage IIIB. I had tumors covering my body from the neck down to my groin and the cancer had spread to my spleen. Happy Birthday to my Dad, I am sick… After being released from the hospital I started chemotherapy the following week. My body responded quickly to the treatment and six months later the cancer went into remission. I returned to work and my “normal” life shortly thereafter. However, four months later while scratching my neck, I felt a lump. I contacted my mom, who made me contact my oncologist, who had me come in for another biopsy. On Mother’s Day weekend of 2003, I was diagnosed with the Reoccurrence of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Happy Mother’s Day to me! For this second battle with cancer my oncologist informs that we’re going to take a more aggressive approach and perform an Autologus Stem Cell Transplant. “Auto” meaning that I was going to be my own donor and recipient of the stem cells. My test results showed that the cancer did not reach my bone marrow. So, on June 21st, my 24th birthday, I started my chemotherapy treatment in preparation for my stem cell transplant. Needless to say, I didn’t have birthday cake that day…the after affects of the chemo ruined that for me. In late July, my stem cells were harvested from me and placed in a special freezer for when I would be admitted into the hospital for my stem cell transplant. In August, I entered into the hospital for what was supposed to be a 30 day stay. I was given high doses of chemotherapy for a week and then the following week the reinfusion of my stem cells began. The transplant procedure was performed on August 18th, my oncologist’s birthday. On August 31st, eighteen days later I was released from the hospital! This meant the world to me as this was the day before my son, Jacob’s 3rd birthday! My cancer went into remission for its second and hopefully, final time in October of that year.
Cancer was something I thought of as an “old person’s disease.” However, it affects many people of every age. Cancer knows no limits and tries its best to limit us. It can be a very negative experience, but if you are fortunate enough to survive it or fight it, cancer can sometimes can provide you with many hidden blessings. Those blessings being the people that you meet, the stories that will inspire you, the positive attitudes that may surround you, and the incredible strength that may embrace you. I follow this saying quite a bit, “No matter what disease, disorder, or dysfunction one may suffer from, you have two choices: either learn to live with it, or let it live for you.” I choose to learn to live with it. The faster you can embrace it and do that, the faster you can work to overcome it. I feel that there’s a purpose for me here on this earth. Why else would I still be here? Only one entity knows the answer to that. However, with that being said, I plan to live the rest of my life to its fullest, give back to this world and to those who have been affected by this disease in any and every way possible. Remember to live by the Golden Rule and to always pay it forward!