I am an adventurous 65-year-old. I hike long distances and climb high altitudes. I have been an above-knee amputee since I was 29, but I have never let that slow me down.
In October 2011, I reached my goal of standing at the base of Mount Everest. I had my sights set on Mount Kilimanjaro next and started training for that as soon as I got home. But a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma put that adventure on hold.
My non-Hodgkin lymphoma treatment
As soon as I received my non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis, I knew exactly where I needed to go. I had family members who’d been treated at MD Anderson and family who’d been treated elsewhere, and the results were a lot more positive at MD Anderson.
The first time I visited, I thought I might have gotten in over my head. It was so big, and I was overwhelmed. But the people at MD Anderson were so organized. They gave me paperwork for all of my tests coming up. They also gave me maps that told me when I needed to be in a certain place and why I was going to be there, and that made me feel a lot better.
My oncologist, Jason Westin, M.D., was so positive. He told me the goal was to cure me, not just to treat me. Even though I knew there were no guarantees, hearing that made me feel better from the outset. I had total confidence in my team and took each chemo dose as if I were preparing for a tough hike. I even wore my boots and carried my backpack to each treatment.
It may sound crazy, but I tried to look at my cancer treatment as just another adventure. It may not have been the adventure I wanted or one I would have chosen to go on, but I knew I would get through it if I faced it head on and prepared like I would for a difficult hike or climb. Approaching it that way made it seem more possible.
Celebrating life as a non-Hodgkin survivor
When I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, I never sought out someone to talk to. Looking back, I realize how good it would have been to have someone like that. So when I heard about myCancerConnection, MD Anderson’s one-on-one support program, I decided to volunteer.
I have met some unbelievably amazing people on this journey, and I want to do whatever I can to make others more comfortable or help them understand what they’ll be facing.
I tell people to look at cancer treatment like a new job. You dress for the day, you put on your game face and you accept the challenge ahead. Instead of dreading it and worrying, think of it as the next thing you’re going to get through.
As I tell other patients, MD Anderson gave me my life back. I consider myself modified and motivated. I’ve always enjoyed life, but now I appreciate it even more.
After I finished treatment in April 2013, I went to Africa. I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro on crutches that June. I just returned from a trek to Annapurna Base Camp and don't plan on stopping any time soon.
Cancer did not make me who I am, but it proved that I still win no matter what. Now if I can just figure out where I'm going to hike next!