09 Mar, 16

My Story


January 28th, 2016

The day my world got twisted upside down. Or should I say, the day shit truly hit the fan. I was 28 years old, living what I would call a pretty great life. I was at the height of my career, and one of the top reps in my division at my pharmaceutical company for the previous quarter. I was traveling every month, having a great time with friends, meeting new people, going out on the town all of the time, and so forth. I finally felt like I was established and had it all. Little did I know I was in for a huge wake up call.

So, here is the background info. I had been struggling with an annoying lingering cough for the past 2-3 years. 24/7 coughing. It wouldn’t go away. I went to multiple doctors, PCP’s, Allergists, ENT’s, GI doctors, you name it, I had been there. Originally, I was diagnosed with allergies. So I took allergy medication for about 1.5 to 2 years. The cough still wouldn’t go away. I remember my friends, my boyfriend at the time, and coworkers telling me to go to different doctors because something wasn’t right. I dismissed this because after all, if you see 10 doctors and everyone is telling you the same thing, it’s not a big deal. They are probably right? Right? Wrong! So this was half of the problem. After one year of allergy meds, my allergist finally told me that she thought I might have something called Acid Reflux. She recommended going to an ENT to avoid having to get an Endoscopy. I met with two ENT’s who both told me that I definitely had reflux. They recommended a specific diet plan, which I followed, performed an exam to confirm that it was reflux, and prescribed me Omeprazole. The cough went away for a bit, but then it came back and got worse. They said that I should probably see a GI and get an Endoscopy. As November 2015 approached, my cough got worse. I remember being in Boston, visiting my best friends and I seriously could not stop coughing. I blamed it on going out the night before and being hungover.  Maybe all of the alcohol is what was causing the cough, because if you have reflux, you’re not supposed to be drinking alcohol. So, consuming 5 fireball shots a night probably wasn’t the best idea, oops. But it was very bad. When I got back to Miami, I met with two different GI doctors.  They BOTH told me it was probably reflux, prescribed me omeprazole again at a higher strength for a few months, and set up an endoscopy. No one ever even bothered to order me a chest X-ray. I was coughing non-stop all day and night. So I was set up for my Endoscopy mid February, after I returned from my national sales meeting in Vegas.

 

living life before lymphoma

 

Back to the basics though, I had other symptoms too, and here is where it gets interesting. Excruciating abdominal pain, back pain, night sweats, atopic dermatitis all over my legs. One of my best friend’s, Rob, owns a gym. I religiously started working out with him and his business partner Courtney, doing Pilates and strength training. I was seriously in the best shape of my life from working with these two for several months. But then I started having horrible abdominal pain. My PCP told me it from “tearing a muscle” working out. He gave me a muscle relaxant and sent me on my way. I figured that I should probably see my OBGYN, in case it had anything to do with that area, since it felt like I was having period cramps. My OBGYN performed an Ultrasound, but everything was fine and I did not have any ovarian cysts or anything. The same was suggested– muscle tear. I struggled with this for months on and off, basically relying on Advil to get me through the days from the excruciating pain. I can’t even tell you how much advil I would pop daily. I would also wake up at night drenched in sweat. Thinking it was just my metabolism from working out so hard. Little did I know, everything was about to blow up. I had to cancel my workouts during the week. In January, I developed a giant lump underneath my arm.  I immediately went to my PCP, who told me it was a cyst. I texted Courtney and told her I couldn’t work out because my arm hurt so bad. It was excruciatingly painful. Then another one developed on my other arm. I didn’t think anything of it, because I heard that if you get a cyst on one arm, you can usually get one on the other too.

But no time to deal with all of this right now. I was getting ready to go to my national sales meeting in Vegas on January 30th. Today was the 28th. I was all packed and ready to head out there early to see my best friend, Olivia who lives in LA. She was meeting me there. I was on so many group texts with my girlfriends from work, we were all meeting Saturday in Vegas for a little pre party before the meeting. I could not have been more excited. But the pain that day was unbearable in my abdomen, and believe me..I have an extremely high pain tolerance. I can handle almost anything. I kept making excuses, because I had been going out a lot with friends and not getting enough sleep—maybe I needed to relax a bit and stop gosch. I went to CVS during work and was living off of icy hot chill stick compresses, while trying to lug my sample bag into doctor’s offices and drop off samples. I could barely work until 12. I remember going home, sleeping for hours and having hot flashes. I felt so sick that I figured I should try to get muscle relaxants from what I thought was another horrible muscle tear. I went to urgent care. Sat there for a few hours, they told me it was probably a muscle tear. Then they told me I have kidney stones. Then they told me to go to the hospital. I was seriously going to put off going to the hospital until after I returned from Vegas, thank god I didn’t. I immediatly called my mom. She’s an RN, has her Ph.D. in nursing, so she’s a smart cookie. I went to the ER thinking okay, kidney stones. Pain reliever and let it pass, I’ll be on my way home soon. Wrong. Hours of Waiting. Blood work. Scans. It was 1am and the doctor came in and told me that I needed to be admitted, get more scans, and see the specialists in the morning. The look on his face was blank. My white blood cell count was dangerously high, over 30,000 or something like that..and more tests needed to be run. I called my mom, who never freaks out. That’s when I knew something was wrong. I called one of my girlfriends, Chiara. She came to the hospital, picked up my keys and ran to my apartment to get my dog. All I could think about was getting out of there before I had to jump on a flight in one more day. I kept telling all of the nurses that I had a flight to catch, and they just smiled and didn’t really say anything, because they knew that I wasn’t going anywhere.

Jan 29th, 2016

Tests. All day. All night. My mom was on her way back home from visiting my sick grandmother in NY. As the day went on I became even more sick and in even more pain. I couldn’t breathe. CT scans. X-rays. Ultrasounds, Oxygen. My breathing got worse. I called my friends, my coworkers, even my manager and told him to cancel my Vegas trip. I wasn’t going to make it. I knew something was seriously wrong, but was in denial at the same time. My aunt passed away last year of Leukemia. It was like dejavu, being in the hospital with her before she passed. A few days later, I woke up and Olivia was in my hospital room. She lives in LA and caught a red eye. I was so in and out of it, so happy to see her, but that’s when I knew something was very wrong. I was pretty much sedated the entire time in the hospital. Living off of Dilaudid for the pain. My friends kept pouring in and out of the hospital. I finally met with two Oncologists who I was not a big fan of. One of them was such a prick and was even laughing at me at one point. They suspected an infection somewhere in my body, but said there was a slight chance it could be Lymphoma. Not to worry, more tests, probably an infection. Then the female doctor assured me that it was an infection. Then told me if it was Lymphoma, I should consider freezing my eggs because I might not be able to have kids. I’m sorry, what?

The night they told me the news was probably the worst night of my entire life. I had an pneumonia, sitting in my hospital bed crying, sweating, shaking, fever, and attached to oxygen. I couldn’t even shower myself, and my friend had to wash me and wash my hair for me. I couldn’t even walk. What the hell, the weekend before I was out with all of my girlfriends having the time of my life, now I’m in the ICU. As the night approached, all I remember was shaking out of control and Olivia blow drying me with her hair dryer to get me to stop shaking. Sorry Liv, I recently discovered that was NOT the right protocol, but you tried!! Haha! That night, I had to have the nurses change my clothes a total of 6 times while my friend sat in the hospital chair in my room, because I was soaking wet. They told me I had a fever and it was breaking. Night sweats! I kept telling the nurses that I couldn’t breathe even with the oxygen, but no one seemed to be listening to me. They thought it was anxiety and gave me more Ativan.. which is absolutely bizarre, considering that would suppress my breathing even more. I really thought at that moment, that I was going to die, and that was it. I was actually preparing myself for it. That was a feeling that I will never forget. I just kept telling myself in my head, don’t stop breathing, don’t stop breathing. Finally, after hours of telling the nurses that I couldn’t breathe, I went into respiratory failure.

Blacking in and out of consciousness, I was in the OR with my mom next to me, getting one quart of liquid drained out of my lungs. I looked over and saw two of my neighbors who are RN’s.  They came to see me. After that, or before that…I went in for a bone marrow biopsy and lymph node biopsy to determine whether or not I had cancer. I also got a port placed in me, so it was pretty clear what the verdict was. A few hours later… I could finally breathe. A bone marrow biopsy is supposed to absolutely kill, so that’s how messed up I was on pain killers, I didn’t even feel a thing. “Treatment” at the hospital, consisting of being blacked out on anxiety/pain medications continued for a week, my friends visited me non-stop, and Olivia was on a plane again the next weekend. She caught another red eye to see me after work. That’s when the news broke. Lymphoma. 28 years old and I have cancer. I remember two of my friends being in the room when the doctor told me. I was so numb that I couldn’t even cry. All I could think about is my pregnant friend about to pop any day now, being told that one of her best friend’s has cancer and it absolutely broke my heart. And I thought about my mom who had just lost her sister a year ago to this horrible monster, having to go through this again. And Olivia beside me, who had already lost her sister and her mom, having to go through this too. And all of my other friends and family. This wasn’t just affecting me, it was affecting everyone around me, which scared the crap out of me. But I still didn’t cry, because sometimes you don’t have to be strong just for yourself, you have to be strong for the people that you love. More friends kept visiting, and it was all becoming very real. All of my close friends came to visit every day.

I was finally diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The oncologists at the hospital weren’t prepared to treat me, since it was so aggressive and had spread all over my body. After waiting a few days for a bed, I was transferred to the ICU at a cancer center. A doctor who deals with high risk Lymphoma cases, was going to handle my case. Blacking in and out of consciousness, I just remember waking up to the doctor, his cute resident, and interns, barely being able to speak. My doctor was absolutely furious that I was in such horrible shape. I work in the healthcare industry and still went years being misdiagnosed. He scared me. He was upset and frustrated that it took almost 10 days of messing around at the previous hospital without me even being actually treated. Chemo would start immediately. I was beyond out of it. But I remember one of my doctor’s adorable resident’s calming me down and being so nice to me. I started chemo that night, which is extremely hard to do, and a lot of strings had to be pulled for that to happen. The regimen that was chosen for me was BEACOPP. It’s not the standard Lymphoma regimen, but since my cancer was so aggressive, this was pretty much the only option for me. It’s not typically done in the U.S. and the dosage is very escalated. Everything was changing in the blink of an eye. Minutes later, I was warned about all of the horrible side effects of chemo, the main one being possible infertility. Unfortunately, I had to be treated right away and did not have time to even think about possible fertility treatments beforehand.

On the bright side..while in the ICU, starting chemo, I met an absolute angel named Leizel aka Liz. As horrible as this sounds, she helped me turn a nightmare upside down. After being at the other hospital for a long ass time, I met a bunch of nurses. Most of them were rude, some were okay. Liz was the absolute bomb. She had such great energy and always had me laughing. I felt like I was hanging out with one of my girlfriends who I had known forever in the ICU. Olivia flew in again and stayed with me that weekend. It was super bowl weekend. I just couldn’t get over how well she held it together. She was by my side 24/7, and slept in a nasty hospital chair the entire weekend again. She didn’t even pack a bag either weekend that she flew down, she just jumped on any flight she could get on. If that isn’t true friendship, then I don’t know what is. It was Superbowl Sunday, and I think that’s when I realized that I have the best friends in the entire world. All of my friends came to see me in the ICU and we actually had a superbowl party while I was on my pain killers, ha! Leave it to my friends and I to turn a fucked up situation into a party. My friend Scott from NY who was in town even spent his superbowl night in the ICU. We were all laughing the entire time. At one point, my friend Lorena came in to break the bad news that it was time to remove my hair extensions!! THE END OF THE WORLD!! Her and my old roommate, Kristin knew that it was time. One was on one side of my hospital bed, and the other on the other side, ripping out my hair extensions with a fork. Mind you, this is all happening when one of the hot Doctor’s that I apparently was trying to hit on while sedated…was in my room talking to me. Girls, if you are reading this right now..YOU
COULD HAVE WAITED UNTIL HE LEFT THE ROOM! HAHA!!

Hospital visit with my girlfriends!

The next day I was doing better and finally transferred out of the ICU. I had to stay at the hospital for the entire week doing chemo. Although it was a horrible situation, and my life was changing right in front of my eyes..as twisted as it sounds, I was in some way or another, happy. I have never felt so loved in my entire life, and I never realized how lucky I am to have such amazing people around me. Something people, including myself, often take for granted. I don’t think I could have gotten through those weeks without all of my friends. Even people that I never expected to even reach out to me, were coming to visit me in the hospital. I gained new friends, and became so close to the ones that I already have. My coworkers were absolute angels too. They all pitched in and got me the most amazing cancer kit I could have ever expected to receive. Seriously, you guys went WAY out! AND you’re not even in my district! Hahaha! Christina and Lauren, I don’t know where you guys came from, but you’re my little guardian angels and you played SUCH a huge role in me even remotely handling the situation well. Tamara, my second mama! Lorin and Jen, you too. Everyone. Lorin is also pregnant about to pop, and I think she checked in on me every freaking hour, and still does. Lorin, I’m so glad that we are both dumb asses and failed our Derm exam together at training. That brought us together forever! Hahaha!!!

Moving on, chemo ended Friday and it was my last night in the
hospital. I was getting discharged Saturday. I was beyond excited. I felt like I was handling the situation pretty well. I also thought it was a great time to stalk down one of the hot Doctor’s on Linked In, since I was being discharged. We’re going to call him “Dr. X”. I’m a pretty ridiculous person, so this is very fitting for the situation. I wrote him a creepy linked in message (or my friend Jimmy wrote it for me) And tried to get him to come to my floor to say bye before I was discharged. Which he did after one of his night shifts. I had cancer and still had game! Haha! And then followed up with another creepy message with my phone number. A screen shot definitely needs to be put on this for that, since it’s the funniest message ever. Later that Saturday, I left the hospital with my mask on, and was ready to take on the world. I went home quickly to drop my stuff off, then went with my mom and cousin to try on wigs, since the doctors said my hair was going to fall out ASAP. This was an extremely hard experience, since I still had all of my hair at that point. I cried a little. But I knew I had to suck it up. Dr. X ended up texting me too that night…Still.Have.Game.Even.With.Cancer.

The days after I got out of the hospital were the hardest days of my life, next to the night at the hospital thinking that I was going to die. My positive “I can do this” attitude, quickly did a 180. I was on SO much Prednisone, that I didn’t sleep for almost 8 days, was shaking, and I felt like an absolute crazy person. Thank god Dr. X was working night shifts and would keep me entertained while I couldn’t sleep. I sat on my couch day and night just sitting there, looking outside, crying.  I didn’t understand what I ever did to deserve this. My hair started shedding all over my apartment, and that’s when my situation became real. I had planned on still working, and not taking a leave of absence, because I thought I could handle it. I went into the bathroom and put my hands through my hair, and it was falling out in clumps. When you have cancer, there are certain moments that you remember, that you will never, ever forget. That’s something I will never forget. I took my hair brush out and clump by clump, my hair was falling out. I thought I was going to lose my mind. I became sick to my stomach, hanging over my toilet dry heaving, crying. My mom kept telling me that this was a good thing because the chemo was working. Every time my hair fell out she would tell me, don’t worry, the chemo is working. I was SO sick of her saying this. Being a woman and losing all of your hair is probably the most traumatizing thing that anyone can go through. As vain as it sounds, if you have cancer and have lost your hair, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I can’t even begin to describe it. Every time my hair would fall out, it made me physically sick to my stomach. And every time it fell out, it was a reminder that what was happening to me was real.

I started having crazy panic attacks after that. One night, my mom left to walk my dog for 10 minutes. Within that 10 minutes, I thought I was going to have a heart attack and stop breathing. I didn’t know what to do, so I ran to my neighbor’s apartment, pretty much passed out on their floor and told them to call 911. I couldn’t breathe or talk, and just remember putting my mom’s cell phone number into my neighbor’s phone, telling her to call her before I die! They cancelled the 911 call after they realized I was just having a panic attack. My mom came in two minutes later. Day by day, my hair kept falling out until there was almost nothing left. I was an emotional wreck. I knew it was time. I called my manager and told him that I was going to take a leave of absence from work. After catching up on computer work for a few days, I couldn’t bring myself to go in. This was also one of the harder things for me to do, much harder than you could ever imagine. If you know me, you know that I’m all about my career. I’m a very independent, strong woman, and at this moment, I was physically and emotionally weak. I struggled with the decision, but I called my manager in tears telling him I’ll be gone for a bit. He was very supportive about my decision. I knew I had to focus on my health, and getting myself back together.

So this might seem like the most depressing blog ever, but here is where we get back to the basics! I’M BACK!!! FINALLY!! Trust me, it’ll get good and entertaining from here. I’m USUALLY a super private person. My goal here isn’t to put my personal life on blast, it is to raise awareness about Lymphoma, and help other people realize that there IS light at the end of the tunnel, and you’re not going through this alone. I remember coming home and googling Lymphoma blogs, so I could at least have an idea on what to expect, and I couldn’t find that many. Anyways, after a few weeks of being miserable, I forgot who
I was in the process. I knew it was bad when I didn’t even want to call anyone back, or answer any messages from any of my friends. I’ve always been a strong girl, and I’ve always taken anything that life throws at me with a smile. Always. Life is messy, and shit happens, but we deal with it. These are the cards that I have been dealt right now, and I have no choice but to deal with them. I am a strong believer in the fact that everything in life happens for a reason. I truly believe that there is a reason for all of this. Maybe I needed to change something in my life, and this small road block is going to shake me, wake me up, and help me do that. All I know is that i’m not the same person anymore that I was even one month ago. The best advice I’ve received throughout all of this is that dealing with cancer is 50% mental (thanks Tamara and Will..I tell myself this every single day). And I truly believe that a lot of it is definitely mental. I turned my time at the ICU into Comedy Central, and I am determined to have the best time ever possible while I go through chemo and conquer this beast. (Is that possible? Yes, ask any of my friends. More ridiculous stories to come) So.. I picked out a bomb ass weave (you seriously can’t even tell that I have cancer, it’s a bit twisted.) And I put my make up on every day.  I go to my cancer center like I own the show, I make friends with everyone, hit on the doctors, hang out with my friends when I can, and I try to make life as normal as possible for the next few months. So far it’s working! Watch out Lymphoma, you’re messing with the wrong chick!

 

Find my book “Talk Cancer To Me” available at amazon here:

  1. Jenni says:

    Such an inspiration, Jessica. I’m beyond proud of you and your ability to have such a positive perspective. As the saying goes, life isn’t so much about what happens to us, but how we react to it….I’d say your winning! Keep fighting the good fight ??

  2. Erik Van Uden says:

    Wow, very touching. You are such a strong person and you will beat this. Your heart is as beautiful as your face and that is a tough task! Keep your chin up

    -Erik

  3. Styx says:

    I know I’ve already heard all this but reading through this brought tears to my eyes, in the way that I am so proud of you. You continue to amaze me constantly and I’m so lucky to call you my friend. Your words are so powerful and strong, and you manage to keep a sense of humor about all of this that makes it real and shows there’s life during and after cancer. This won’t define you, it will just be a small chapter in your life that, like everything else, you will persevere over and come out even stronger than before. You are one strong chick ??

  4. Daniel Navarrete says:

    Im greatfull that you shared your story… This are the moments when we appreciate what we have and who we have.. We sometimes take things and people for granted.. And that shouldnt be that way… Maybe this was a wake up call.. Not just for you.. But for all the people around you.. And the ones that had the privilege to read your story… I have no doubt you will get through this.. Youre an inspiration at least for me… And probably to many people.. I wish you the best.. You made me a better person just for this.. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! Keep fighting, keep strong, and grow that amazing love you have for life.. Thats and a healthy eating( read a lot about cancer curing with just food) is what will get ypu through this!!! Sending you all the love, best energy… And my best wishes!❤️

  5. Felipe Silva says:

    Wow very touching and amazing how you are taking all of this! Keep fighting and you’ll be out of it! Like you say most of it it’s mental! Stay positive and I wish you the best!

  6. Taty says:

    Not sure why and how I ran into this and actually read the entire story..( while my 4yr old is jumping around and my new born is breastfeeding.) but you are an amazing person! You are so strong and at the end of the day YES it is hard but you got this! Many Blessings for you girl and keep fighting. If you ever just need someone to talk to or vent to.. Feel free ? Tospina11@gmail.com

  7. Herb Cunha says:

    Herb
    You are a motivator for all of us dealing with a challenge. Congrats to you for pulling through and being so strong. You have a great team, your Mom, friends and medical staff, good for you. Continue to recover cause the world is awaiting you! Good luck and keep up the spirit to overcome and win!

  8. Hey there! I’ve been following your web site for some time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Austin Tx! Just wanted to mention keep up the great work!

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