** Feel free to skip if you’re not in the mood for something heavy, traumatic, and dramatic. **
Year 2000 was a great year. Except for the tiny little thing at the end leaving a very bitter and angry taste in my mouth / mind.
We bought our first (current) home that year. The same year that I graduated from college, got a real job, and got married. All within a 6-month span, in that order. Things were hectic as you can imagine. Mid-October we made an offer to buy the house and the offer was accepted. Although the house is over 40 years old, it has character and charm. It also has a lot of privacy - there is almost an acre of land in the backyard. The world is our oyster and we were very excited!
Come mid-November, we the newlyweds were all done packing our things in the apartment and ready to become home owners. We moved in on a Friday. That following Monday, I went to see the doctor. I had been having some tightening feelings in the chest and slight chest pains. She took an x-ray. She scheduled a CT scan immediately for the next day after looking at the x-ray films. The CT scan results came back that same day on Tuesday and I got a call at home. I was to go for the next available slot for a biopsy surgery. On Wednesday morning that same week. One major event after another, I hardly had time to digest it all. This was Thanksgiving Week.
I had been extremely healthy and never had any major illnesses. No one in my extended / family (nor my husband’s side) have had any illnesses either. We were both very naive, ignorant, and had been living blissfully healthy lives.
Wednesday morning, bright and early, hubby took me to the hospital and dropped me off at the out-patient surgery center and went to work. It was our one-year anniversary — civil court marriage day — a story for another day. I didn’t take the anesthesia very well. Actually, they couldn’t get the damn needle in my tiny vein. It took 4 nurses and 7 tries to finally get it in. By then, I was bawling, and no one was around to comfort me. Some time later, I had the biopsy surgery done on my neck. It took one hour or so. I was woozy. They held me for couple of hours and finally hubby came and took me home. I spent that evening and the next day in bed - Thanksgiving Day - recovering. We don’t live close to family at all, so it was just me and him.
I was sure my wound was infected. It was red and puffy, and it was still numb from the drugs, some 48 hours later. I was told the drugs would wear off after 24 hours. So we went to the surgery clinic the next day, Thanksgiving Friday to see why I was still so numb and whether its in fact an infection. Was told my surgeon was on vacation and I was to see another doctor. I mentioned my complaints to this other doctor; she looked briefly at my neck, and went to grab some papers in another room. She came back, casually said that sometimes during a surgery, a nerve or two may be damaged. And depending on a variety of reasons, it may or may not be a reversible damage. She glanced at the papers and then announced, again very casually, that I have cancer.
She said, it’s Hodgkin’s Disease. A type of Lymphoma.
I’ve never heard any of it before.
It’s cancer. I have CANCER.
My dear husband was sitting in the waiting room. I was alone. With this doctor whom I’ve never met before.
My world went black for what seemed like eternity. When I came to, I think I said something like “…OK…” I don’t remember another word she said to me after that and I don’t recall how long I was in there. I left to find my husband. I mumbled something to him and we left the clinic. We drove home in silence and shock. The next two weeks were spent crying, going for oncology appointments, tests and staging, and more crying. I couldn’t talk to anyone I knew, as it made me cry even more. I think it was at least a month before any of my friends knew.
How could this be?! I just turned 24 not long ago. Had been healthy all my life; I even ate healthy and had no drinking or smoking habits. I’m too young to have cancer. I’m too healthy to have cancer. I don’t want to die yet; my life has just started. No one in my family or extended family has ever had cancer before. Not even any major illnesses. There must be a mistake. I don’t want to die yet. The only people I know who have/had cancer are on T.V. and they usually end up dying. And they’re usually very old. Or very young. I don’t want to die. Not yet. We desperately hoped they have made a wrong diagnosis.
However, several of the classic symptoms were present. The night sweats, the itchiness, the fatigue, and the shortness of breath. Not to mention the swollen node that they took out from my neck and the big unexplained spot in my chest cavity on the x-ray. The CT scan and the gallium scan results. The bone marrow biopsy. All positive for hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The local oncologist said to us, if you were ever to have cancer, hodgkin’s lymphoma is one of the best ones to have. I did not know there was such a thing. “The best cancer.” This has to be the worst oxymoron. She said to stay on the birth control pills, as it may serve to protect my ovaries from the harsh chemo. She said there was a 5-15% chance that I could become sterile from the drug combination. We were not given any support group materials of any sort, nor any sort of financial help information. She never had an ounce of compassion in her voice. Now looking back, we were treated as a number, a statistic. People who were young and resilient who don’t need any extra help. And we didn’t know any better. We were as naive as they come.
For the next 10 months, we went in and out of hospital more times than we care to remember. But oh do I remember. The 6-month long chemotherapy kicked my butt, to the point where I wish I was actually dead. Because I had wimpy arm veins, and also because of the high toxicity of the chemo drugs, I had another surgery to insert a catheter into my chest to access a bigger vein for easier chemo delivery. To this day I have a huge scar on the top of my right boob. I lost most of my hair, and shaved what was left of it. The 2 week-long radiation therapy at Mayo Clinic following was no cake walk either, but it was much easier than chemo. I had Mantle Field radiation - an inverted Y-field from my chin to shortly below my boobs. My throat was suffering big time after just a couple of sessions. It felt as if there were razor blades in my throat. I was suffering from esophagitis, a common side affect of radiation to the throat/neck region. For weeks I could not swallow my own spit, let alone eat much of anything.
Two friends came to visit me during this whole ordeal. Two. Since we had moved in just the week prior to diagnose, the neighbors didn’t know us at all. My new coworkers did not know me very well yet at the new job. Families were thousands of miles away. My husband was right there alongside me, every single step of the way. But we felt extremely alone, fighting this battle for my life, fighting to survive.
Lucky for me, remission was declared 10 months later.
90% of our packing remained inside the boxes that were scattered throughout the house for more than a year. We had college-condition furniture for the first 2 years living in this new house. The last thing we wanted to think about was the house. The last thing I wanted to think about was sex.
Months later I was still in a daze thinking of what had happened to me, and all that I went through to get to remission. For a very long time, I couldn’t talk about it without crying. I have never cried so much in public, in front of people, and in private.
These days I don’t cry about this very much at all. Some days it feels as if it happened eons ago, other days it feels as though it just happened yesterday. And sometimes it feels as if this happened to someone else and not me. Most days I’m OK, but occasionally, I feel I need to talk to a shrink.
And the sky has been mostly blue with white clouds since then (with the exception of last October).
I am managing.
I am surviving.