At age 20, I never imagined that I would have cancer. I was just figuring out what I wanted to do with my life: I'd decided to be a nurse.
But life handed me something completely different -- a leukemia diagnosis and a lymphoma diagnosis.
My dual diagnosis: T-cell acute lymphoblastic lymphoma and acute lymphoblastic leukemia
I had a swollen lymph node on my neck for over a month, but I never really though anything of it. I finished off a round of antibiotics, and my doctor told me to watch it and come back if anything new presented. About two weeks later, I woke up with 11 new swollen lymph nodes.
After a couple of biopsies, doctors diagnosed me with stage IV T-cell acute lymphoblastic lymphoma.
At the time, I mentally blocked out my lymphoma diagnosis. I didn't really believe that I had cancer because I didn't feel sick. To be honest, I felt I didn't have the time to deal with something as big as cancer and the possibility of chemotherapy. I began my treatment at MD Anderson where I found out my cancer had spread to my bone marrow. I also received a second diagnosis -- acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
I went through nine months of aggressive chemotherapy, followed by two years of maintenance chemo.
I was so weak at the time. Some days it took everything I had to get up and ride in the car to MD Anderson. Some days were better than others. On a good day, I was able to ride the skybridge cart without wanting to throw up.
Facing cancer as a young adult
I didn't know ANYBODY my age with cancer. I tried to find books, articles, anything that would help me better understand what I was going through. I spent a lot of time journaling my feelings. Writing down what I was dealing with enabled me to process what was happening to me.
There was so much I didn't know about cancer. I didn't know that I would lose my eyebrows, eyelashes, and hair during chemo. Imagine my shock when I tried to apply mascara and ended up with half of my eyelashes on the mascara brush.
Thankfully, I went into remission fairly quickly after starting chemo. I'm also fortunate that I went back to my doctor when I first noticed the swollen nodes. I've been told that if I had waited just a few weeks longer, I may not still be here. During my lymphoma and leukemia treatment, I took one semester off and slowly got back into the groove of taking college classes. I managed to earn a bachelor's degree in liberal arts and communication. After finishing that degree, I started working toward my original nursing degree.
Life after leukemia and lymphoma
I have dealt with so many things that a normal 28-year-old wouldn't. I'm facing hip replacements, knee replacements, memory loss, constant pain, and the fear that every bump I ever find in my body will be cancer. I'm afraid my family will always treat me as if I'm fragile and breakable, even though in my mind I am fiercely independent and strong.
Cancer changed me for the better. I learned to be humble and accept humility. I learned that some friends will stick with you, and others won't.
And, I learned so much about myself. I learned that I WAS strong, even when I felt weaker than I had ever been. The amount of mental and spiritual strength that I gained is priceless. Facing the possibility of death in my early 20s caused me great emotional stress, but I will forever thank cancer for making me the person that I am today.