One year ago today I was diagnosed with stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. This morning, over a celebratory brunch, Andy and I were recalling the details of that day.
I remember it was a beautiful day and I got a message that morning from Carrie to meet at noon. So I texted Andy, told him the time, and called my mom. I remember she wished me luck as I hopped on the subway to meet the doctor.
Andy and I met at Union Square Park 15 minutes before we went in to the clinic. We had a moment hugging in the sunshine and promised each other we would somehow handle whatever news we were about to get.
Carrie brought us into an open room and Andy and I sat. She was very calm and gentle as she told us the preliminary results were hodgkin’s lymphoma. It took a few minutes before it sunk in and Carrie paused as I numbly allowed myself to digest the information. Carrie went on to tell us the survival rates, the treatment options, and her recommendations for our oncologist. As we left the office she hugged us and told us to call if we had questions. We left and went back out into the beautiful spring day. The appointment only took about 30 minutes, but it felt like we had been in there for hours.
I remember hugging Andy on the sidewalk outside the clinic. It was then that the tears really began. But it was surprising that they were tears of relief. We sat in the park and called our parents and siblings. I remember as we left the office thinking that calling my mom and dad and sister was going to be the hardest thing I would ever do. My mom is a cancer survivor and I didn’t want her or my family to feel anymore pain from this disease from my going through it. But, my family was amazing as usual. They calmed me down, said they loved me, and volunteered to come to NY to help us out.
Then, of course, there is that awkward moment of trying to figure out what to do after you get some of the worst news of your life. I think we decided to have lunch at a diner and get Pink Berry - after, of course, buying more kleenex. Throughout lunch we held hands, cried and promised that we would get through it together. As we left the diner, I ran into a professor from grad school. We hugged and caught up, but I didn’t tell him about the diagnosis. How do you bring up that you just, literally 1 hour ago, got diagnosed with cancer? He was having coffee in between classes and I guess didn’t think I should bother him with my cancer. Even though I knew that this incredible man would feel nothing but compassion and care because he is just that kind guy. But instead, I smiled and said I was ok, when he asked. We walked back to Union Square with our FroYo and found a bench in the sun. We sat in the silence eating our ice cream as the weather grew cooler. An hour later we hopped on the subway to go home to Brooklyn. On the walk to our apartment I decided that I would write a basic mass email to our friends and family. I didn’t want to feel alone in this and I’m an introvert who can sometimes have a hard time asking for help. I figured I would put it out there. I didn’t want to hide from it. I actually found that I wanted to share it. I wanted people to know. And a mass mailing allowed me to let people know all at once without getting overwhelmed with personal phone calls.
It’s funny reading the letter I wrote to my friends. I called Hodgkin’s the “good” cancer as I tried not to overly alarm my friends. I now know that there is no good cancer, there is just cancer. Percentages mean nothing when you are talking about your life.
Things moved quickly after that. The days that followed were packed with doctor appointments and tests. A PET scan to find out exactly what stage the cancer was in, a barrage of tests to assure my body would handle the chemo, more biopsies for the clinical study I wanted to take part in, and a surgery to place a port catheter for chemo in my chest. We began to quickly realize that our vacation wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t quite feel that I could enjoy the beaches of Mexico knowing that I had a tumor which was slowly cutting off my airway. That, combined with the coughing, itching and night sweats, was enough for us to finally admit that we needed to cancel. Luckily, for the first time, we had bought travel insurance and (almost a year later) we were able to get every penny back.
Before that day I had tried to imagined what getting a diagnosis like this would be like. I thought I would be emotionally crushed, or I would be angry with the world and determined to fight, or maybe I would just want to hibernate from the world. But I found instead that I just felt ready. My friends started responding to my mass email with sympathy and encouragement. They told me to fight. They called me strong and brave. But I didn’t feel strong or brave. I just felt ready.
I don’t think there’s a conscious decision to be a ‘fighter’ when you have cancer, at least there wasn’t for me. I had been sick for 4 months and I was just plain tired of being sick. I think I quickly accepted cancer because it meant I had a starting point. A diagnosis meant a course of treatment, which meant getting better. Cancer was not what we wanted, but it was a beginning. I was hopeful, I was probably in denial, but I was hopeful. For me the diagnosis was kind of like rock bottom, and the only place to go was up.
It was by no means an easy journey from that point to remission. It was a shitty uphill slog. But one year later I am still here, and while I’d never choose to go through this year again, I am thankful that I am finally able to put it behind me.
Thank you to my amazing family, my incredible fiancé, my wonderful roommate, and my fantastic friends for sticking with me through this past year. Now someone, please buy me a drink! I deserve it!
Happy Canciversary to me!