February 16, 2016
Two-time lymphoma survivor: 'I'm alive to try'
BY Katy Lee
When cancer returns for a second time, things get a lot more serious. Especially when the recurrence appears in your spine. I know because this very thing happened to me in 2014.
My family and I agreed that given the severity, my diffuse large B-cell lymphoma was beyond the scope of my beloved doctors in Wichita, Kansas. So on Sept. 9, 2014, my husband and I left for MD Anderson. That day stands out because it was my second son’s first birthday. I was bound to a wheelchair because the lymphoma was in my spine. I was desperately sad about being separated from my children. I remember thinking, “God, my boys need a mommy, and my husband needs a wife – and not just any mom or wife. They need ME!”
A spinal biopsy and a spine tumor
After arriving in Houston and going to a lot of long, tedious appointments, I had a spinal biopsy so my medical team could decide on the best course of treatment. The spinal biopsy was awfully hard on my already hurting body. During recovery, I had no feeling from the waist down. I needed help with everything. I felt like a 28-year-old in a 90-year-old body.
The surgery confirmed that I had lymphoma in my spine, something only 3% of cancer patients experience. For that reason, all of MD Anderson’s lymphoma doctors reviewed my case. They created a plan of attack that included chemotherapy and radiation. The initial goal was to get a treatment plan and return to Kanas for treatment, but my doctors highly advised staying in Houston. We made Houston our home for the next six months.
Eight days after surgery, I started high-dose chemo and steroids. As both began to reduce the size of the spine tumor, I slowly regained my strength and began walking the halls with assistance. All the while I daydreamed about my sons. I did music therapy and wrote songs about them, scheduled their playdates from afar and tried to use them and their awesome daddy as my daily motivation.
My stem cell transplant
Just when things seemed to be progressing, a hiccup came our way. It was right before Christmas and I had been off chemo for a few weeks while preparing my body for a stem cell transplant. All of the sudden I started noticing numbness and tingling in my legs and feet. An MRI revealed that the tumor in my spine was growing again. My doctors decided to move me into radiation and started five-day-a-week pinpoint therapy. Slowly, I began to feel improvement in my walking – and myself.
In January 2015, I began chemo again, this time to prepare for my rescheduled stem cell transplant. This form of chemo was the heavy duty, big gun type. It caused me to become very ill. Through it all, I stayed focused by covering my hospital room in scriptures and pictures of my kids, family and friends.
I was discharged from the hospital three weeks later. I recovered at my Houston apartment for a week, and then my blood counts were high enough for me to go home.
Although I was blessed to have lots of family and friends around me, I still struggled to walk steadily, and my digestive system was a wreck at times. I often vomited in the mornings while making breakfast for my kids.
I have aggressively tried to get better because, as a mom, I have to be. I've worked with a kinesiologist, an acupuncturist, a personal trainer and, through an MD Anderson pilot, a health coach. I have changed my diet and improved by leaps and bounds. I’ve now been in remission for more than a year, and I've never felt better.
“I’m alive to try”
For me, life after cancer has been so rich. Sometimes faith is all you need – and all you have. I used to believe in the saying, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Now I know that He sometimes will, but that it will be used for good.
Along with my faith, my children and husband were my daily motivation. I now cherish my time with them more than ever. I strive to raise my sons to be men of integrity, and I work to maintain everlasting love with my husband.
I live with a new perspective. I long to be the best I can in all areas of life, not because I’m striving for perfection, but because I’m alive to try.
TopicsNon-Hodgkin Lymphoma Cancer Recurrence Lymphoma Radiation Therapy Survivorship Moon Shots Program B-Cell Lymphoma Biopsy Treatment Stem Cell Transplantation Cellular Therapy Research Chemotherapy
Life after cancer has been so rich.