When my doctors first told me that I had non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, my world stopped. My mind started racing. My emotions became mixed-up. My body went limp.
I know I’m not unique to these reactions. I’ve come to understand that upon first hearing, “I’m sorry, it’s cancer,” pretty much everyone goes through the same experience I did. However, I’ve learned that I am more unique than most based on what I did shortly after my diagnosis.
This is why I share my story—in the hopes of inspiring people facing cancer to take more steps toward self-empowerment, elevated healing and hope during their cancer journeys.
In May of 2011, I had graduated my youngest child from homeschooling. I took time off from my part-time job as an exam proctor at the University of Delaware so my husband, children and I could enjoy what we knew would be our last summer as a happy family from Bear, Delaware before our children started heading their separate ways. Come fall I would start a new full-time job—entering an exciting phase of life and motherhood.
Prior to this point, I had led a positive lifestyle and had always been healthy. But signs started to tell me otherwise in 2011. I started noticing changes to my nails, hair and skin and feeling odd aches. A trip to my primary care physician led to tests and more visits then surgery to remove my enlarged spleen, which was full of cancer.
Despite removing my spleen the cancer had invaded other parts of my body.
The suggested treatment was a ‘five-chemo cocktail,’ and I asked my doctor to explain how this concoction would work and might affect me physically. The response floored me. “That’s for me to worry about, not you,” said my doctor.
Beyond being denied information I needed, I remember being struck with the thought that I was supposed to give up control of my cancer to a doctor who offered only one course of treatment.
I determined that if I were to beat this cancer and get back to the life I wanted to live that I would have to become actively involved in my treatment. So I did some research and discovered there were indeed other options for treatment that very well might be better for my condition.
Eventually, my research led me to doctors in Philadelphia, where my oncology team and I attacked the cancer with a six-week treatment of a drug that left me with virtually no side effects. I said we attacked the cancer because together we arrived at this particular protocol.
Their focus was on me — not on therapies routinely subscribed. It was treating me, the person, that made all the difference. My body, spirit, mind, anxieties, back aches, soul, digestive upsets—all of me was cared for during my initial course of treatment. And this continued during the two years of every-other-month maintenance treatments, and to this day during my check-ins.
In April my mother and I hit the Delaware beaches to celebrate my fifth anniversary of being cancer-free. I’ve been enjoying hiking, my job, family and life. I’ve been able to channel my cancer experiences and share my faith in God as I comforted my uncle as he journeyed from this life to the next.
I have become part of a community of other cancer “thrivers” that adds a new dimension to my life. And I have shared my story with all of you as a very important component of my personal mission to help others find self-empowerment in the face of cancer.
I am in remission from non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma—a disease that this year in the U.S. is expected to take more than 19,500 lives. Certainly, my medical treatment plays a big role in this.
But my path to being a cancer survivor had a great deal to do with my ability to ask questions, get answers and remain strong. I understand that when you’re told you have cancer, you want to put all your trust in the doctor sitting across from you to take care of it. But, if you take just one lesson from my story, let it be that the person you have to listen to and trust first and foremost is you. Listen to your body, your gut, your heart—and take the reins. This will lead you to the best possible place. I am living proof of this.