Saturday, April 24, 2010

Happy Anniversary to me!!

April 24, 1996...

I was 24 years old, 9 days before my 25th birthday...

I was busy working on my career, hanging out with new friends, and building a relationship...

I was told I had cancer...

It has been 14 years since my diagnosis and I am considered cured from Stage 2 Hodgkin's Lymphoma and every April 24th, I take a few minutes to remember that. I take a few minutes to remember how cancer has affected every member of my family from my paternal uncle who died from pancreatic cancer to my mom who has survived both ovarian and breast cancer.

The cancer diagnosis was pretty much my first experience at learning how to listen to my body. I can visualize the day I felt a small pea-sized lump in my collarbone and how fatigued I was all the time. I saw a doctor insisting that something was wrong with me. To be honest, cancer was the last thought on my mind. I just knew I didn't feel right. I would come home from work and was in bed by 6 or 7pm at night. It was pretty much chalked up to a viral infection, mono was ruled out. My primary care doctor at the time dismissed my concerns with a lengthy explanation about how viral infections and enlarged lymph nodes take a while to heal. I guess he forgot that he was talking to a nurse; like that was something I didn't already know!

So months go by and at this point, I had changed jobs, health insurance, and along with that I got a new primary care doctor. I had been trying to convince myself for months that it was nothing because I had after all, seen my old doctor several times and he assured me that everything was fine.. But it just did not seem right. I had enlarged lymph nodes before with a cold, etc. and being a nurse, I knew this was not normal. My new doctor agreed. He did the standard treatment for a possible infection, ruled out tuberculosis and a few other minor things and then looked at me and said he just wasn't sure what was wrong and he wanted me to see an ENT specialist (ear, nose, and throat doc) so off I went...

Well, the ENT doc took this whole growing lump in my neck thing pretty seriously too and next thing I knew, I was getting a CT scan. The results were shocking. I had not only that nodule in my neck, but they were all scattered throughout my neck and chest. I remember looking at the film he put up for me to see and thinking "Oh my God, what the hell is that?" He said because of the pattern, it looked like Hodgkin's lymphoma. Lymphoma? Cancer? You have got to be kidding me. I am 24 years old. I can't have cancer! Next thing I knew, a week later I was getting a biopsy...

There is something very surreal about going to a doctor's appointment where you are getting biopsy results. It was relatively certain that I had lymphoma (not that I had accepted that at the time) but the biopsy was to know for sure and to diagnosis exactly which type as there are several different types of Hodgkin's Disease. I was pretty lucky. There had been a lot of advances in the treatment of Hodgkin's Disease at that point and really, if you had to have cancer, Hodgkin's was the way to go because of its high remission rate.

After a few weeks of more testing to determine what stage I was at and what the appropriate treatment would be, it was decided that I was a candidate for 3 months of radiation only. I was blessed to have an incredible radiation oncologist (Dr. Linda Bornstein) who was seriously one of the biggest perfectionists I had ever met...she put me to shame! I had hit the jackpot because if you are going to have that amount of radiation pumped into your body, you want someone like her to make sure everything is exact. You definitely want that radiation hitting more cancer cells then healthy cells! Because I didn't receive chemotherapy, I thought the cancer treatment wouldn't be that bad. I was seriously wrong about that. Radiation was a nightmare: treatments Mon-Fri for 3 months to my neck, chest and abdomen. I had radiation burns, difficulty swallowing, fatigue, no salivia, lost 1/2 head of hair, the list goes on.

She did it though. I did it. On August 27, 1996, I had my last radiation treatment (Dr. B. considers THAT date my anniversary date!) and have been cancer free since then. I wish I could say that since that date, I have lived every day fully because of that experience but the truth is, I have not. As the years went by, I took my cancer free body and my cancer free life for granted many times. I think that is why I always remember this date. It reminds me of how strong and courageous I can be, it reminds me of the importance of trying to get the most out of each day, and it reminds me of the fragility of life.

The hat in the picture that goes with today's posting was given to me this morning. I had to run to the post office to mail a package and there was a table set up outside by a business in town who was doing a fundraiser for The Jimmy Fund. I found this quite ironic because not only is April 24th my cancer diagnosis anniversary, but it is also the date that my mom's brother, Donald, passed away from leukemia at the tender age of 5. So I gave my donation and put on my Jimmy Fund hat and remembered how good it is to be a survivor...


  1. You are very strong and very courageous. Thank you for this blog. Please keep posting it on the BUCC wall of fb.

  2. Chris, This is so well written and sincere. It is so important not to take our lives for granted. Thank You so much for sharing your story!

  3. :) Ahhhh, reality check. And grateful for you.

  4. That was very ironic! What a great day! Allison would agree. ;)

  5. A purple shirt at the Relay for you!

  6. I appreciate the support so thank you all so much!