They say, “You never know how strong you truly are until being strong is your only option.” I’m definitely finding that out. As many of you know, I was recently diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and have been going through chemotherapy. Soon, I will start radiation therapy, followed by yet another round of chemotherapy. Needless to say, it has been a very long year so far for me and my family! Never would I have imaged that at 28 years old, a simple visit to my family doctor for some back pain and shortness of breath would change my life forever.
January 31, 2014 was the longest day/night of my life. At my family doctor, all of my tests were coming out normal, but I knew something was wrong. I was sent for a blood test to check for a blood clot in my lung. I received a phone call from my physician advising me to get to the ER as soon as possible, my test was positive! I made it to the ER where they performed a CT scan and ran additional blood work. Travis, my fiancé, and I were anxiously awaited the results. So many questions were racing through my mind. Just where was this blood clot? Had it started to travel? What was the next step? How would this affect my children? A million and one "what if's” overwhelmed me.
The doctor walked in and said, "Well, I have good news and I have bad news....which would you like first?" Well of course I wanted to hear the good news.
"Katie, the good news is there is no blood clot seen on the scan", stated the doctor. I looked at Travis and we both had the same puzzled look.
Almost simultaneously, we both said "Ok, what is the bad news?" Instead of the normal explanation doctors give you of what is wrong, the doctor proceeded to pull up my CT scan results on the computer screen. I started to tremble as I knew something was wrong. "Katie, do you see this large black area? This all should be white. This is where your right lung should be! You have a very large mass that has compressed your lung. We believe that this mass is highly suspicious of malignancy. You are going to have to meet with an oncologist as soon as possible."
The tears started to fall uncontrollably. I felt like my world was crashing around me. Travis was just as shocked as I was at this finding. The physician attempted to console me with words. "Things like this happen Katie. I understand that this is not what you wanted to hear, but at least we now have an answer as to why you are so short of breath and having chest pain. I know it’s not the answer you would like to hear, but it IS an answer. You are going to have a long road ahead of you and it's not going to be an easy road. But, you are going to get through this. Life is throwing you a curve ball, you have to decide if you are going hit it out of the park or strike out!"
At this point I was an emotional wreck, nothing that doctor said or did could make me feel better. All I wanted to do was leave and go home to my kids!! As a mother of two and three step children all I wanted was my kids!! Trust me, I had millions of thoughts of what ifs. I was released from the ER and was able to come home to my children. I remember the looks on their faces as they all were still wide awake when Travis and I got home. Seeing their faces was a relief. But, breaking the news to them was the hard part. How do you explain to your kids that you may have cancer? They had millions of questions. Some of which Travis and myself were unable to answer, we just didn't have the answers yet. I know it was tough hearing what we had to tell them and grasping the concept was still unimaginable.
That following week I met with an oncologist. She explained things to me that she knew I was going to ask. She told me that this was not going to be a quick process and the first thing I needed to do was to have some additional blood work and a biopsy! She was right, it wasn't a quick process! I had to have a total of four biopsies until a 100% diagnosis was given; three biopsies of the mass and one bone marrow biopsy. Thank God my bone marrow was negative for cancer. What a relief! After the third biopsy, the pathologist was still unsure of what I truly had. The final biopsy was sent to the Cancer Institute of America, where my case was accepted by Elaine Jaffee, who is a Lymphoma Pathologist Specialist. She made the final call and diagnosed me with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
I met with MANY doctors and heard MANY stories. I met with an amazing thoracic surgeon at Hershey Medical Center and he put things into real perspective for me. I realized I was lucky to be alive. The surgeon said to me, "This mass is a small child, it is part of you! It is 7 inches in diameter! Thats the size of a cantaloupe. No wonder you can’t walk or bend over! You are cutting off your wind supply. This mass has moved your wind pipe and your heart to the left! You must sleep sitting up?? If you don’t I wonder how you are still breathing! I can't believe you have gone so long with these symptoms! I can tell you have lost a significant amount of weight, and I just met you!" I had lost over 120 pounds in less than two years. I did, in fact, sleep with a stack of pillows to keep me in an upright position so that I could sleep. All of the things he said were true. I was SO thankful to be alive.
I had to stop working from being ill and having to go through chemotherapy. My medical expenses have just been piling up. I had no medical coverage when this all started. I thought "Im healthy! I'll be fine! Why pay for what Im not going to use?” Well, the bills started piling up. I filed for disability, but you have to unable to work for a year or longer, they won't find you eligible for 120 days after you file! I have heard it all. But let’s face it, everyday bills don’t stop just because you have cancer. Your children don’t stop needing food just because you have cancer. Your children don’t stop needing clothes just because you have cancer.
We are a large family, seven of us total. It has been a struggle and we are doing the best we can, including extreme couponing, but I have reached my breaking point and I am reaching out for help. I know we all have something, and some more than others. I am a firm believer of paying it forward and I hope that one day I will be able to help someone just as many have helped me: whether it was just listening to me talk about my worries or taking me to an appointment or just visiting me to let me I’m not alone in this battle!
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