Nothing will ever prepare you for the day that your entire world comes crashing down. For me, and for a lot of other people, this is the day that you are diagnosed with cancer. This is how I started 2016, and spent the majority of the year. It’s like something out of a movie, where you don’t think that it could ever happen to you. Until it does. It was the most difficult, terrifying, mentally and physically exhausting year of my entire life. Looking back on it, some days I really don’t know how I made it through. Some days I didn’t really know if I would actually make it through. But at the end of the day, I can’t thank my doctor enough for being the reason that I did make it through.
Most of you reading this already know my story, but for those of you who don’t, here it goes. January 28, 2016. Every cancer survivor and patient knows the date that they were diagnosed with cancer. They know what they were wearing. They know what time it was. They know who they were with. For me, it’s not the day that I was diagnosed, it’s the day that I ended up in the hospital, because that’s when I knew. That’s when my nurses knew. That’s when my mom knew. That’s when the doctors at the hospital knew.
It was around 5pm on a Thursday and I was getting ready to go to Vegas the next day with my girlfriends before our sales meeting. To make a long story short, I went misdiagnosed for 3 years with a chronic cough, swollen lymph nodes, lymph nodes the size of golf balls underneath my arm pits, weight loss, abdominal pain, and a rash all over my legs. Every symptom of Lymphoma. Every exact symptom. Sometimes it makes me sick to my stomach that doctors could allow me to live with this condition for so long. I went misdiagnosed until my stomach hurt so bad, that I could barely stand up and went to urgent care. I was then misdiagnosed again with kidney stones at urgent care and went to the emergency room. My blood was taken, and my white blood cell count was dangerously high. There is also something else that cancer patients will never forget. They will never forget the look on the first Doctor’s face when they end up diagnosed. I will never forget the look on the ER doctors face, even though at that time I wasn’t actually diagnosed. I’ll never ever forget it. He just looked at me as if he knew that my world was about to come crashing down, and there wasnt a single thing that he could do about it. After running a bunch of scans for hours, he told me I had to be admitted. He talked to my mom on the phone. I knew, and she knew, I just didn’t know exactly which type. I spent weeks at the hospital, meeting with specialists. I eventually went into respiratory failure and almost died. I won’t ever forget it. I think my fever went up to 105. I had an pneumonia and had to be changed about 6 times. I was so sick, and on so much dilaudid, that I was vomiting from it. Going into respiratory failure was probably the scariest thing of my entire life. I knew exactly what was going on, and I was preparing to die. Literally. I had to tell myself, keep breathing, keep breathing, don’t stop breathing. Saying this over and over again in my head. I then went into respiratory failure and one quart of fluid was removed from my lungs, and I had a bone marrow biopsy shortly after. I then had a biopsy of one of my lymph nodes. At this point my mom knew it was Lymphoma and so did the doctors, but they couldn’t confirm it until they received the lab results and I had a pet scan.
Basically my doctors at the first hospital clearly didn’t know how to talk to cancer patients. That’s also something that I will never forget. They just looked at me with a worried face. They wouldn’t confirm that I had Lymphoma, but then kept telling me I had to think about fertility options, as chemo can affect this. I eventually had my port put in, a pet scan, and the doctors told me that they couldn’t treat me because my cancer had spread to every organ in my body and it was stage 4. They didn’t know how to help me. The female doctor didn’t even wait for my mom to get into the room to tell her, and didn’t even have the common courtesy to call her back, which is another thing that I will never, ever forget. They just kept pumping me with more dilaudid. I was eventually transported to Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center by ambulance at around 5pm on a Friday a week later. It was in the ICU that I met Dr. Izzidore Lossos, who is the man that saved my life. The first thing I asked him was if I was going to die. His response was “don’t interrupt me.” That’s really all I remember, other than him going over the insane side effects of chemotherapy, risks of secondary cancer, and then I started an intense chemotherapy 2 hours later. What do you even say when someone tells you that the chemo you’re receiving can cause other cancers? But if you don’t have immediate chemo, you’re going to die? There’s not much you can say.
My relationship with my doctor was a roller coaster. I showed up at Sylvester as an egotistical, materialistic brat. Little did I know that I was about to get my ass handed to me that year. And he knew too. We fought. All of the time, mostly because I was a brat. We argued until the point where he threatened to kick me out of his program because I went behind his back and tried to meet with another doctor (which was by far the dumbest decision of my life).
After being hospitalized for a few weeks, my year consisted of chemotherapy, radiation, and doctors visits. I lost my hair, my eyelashes, my eyebrows, my identity. I was on bed rest the majority of the year, my white blood cell count was always low, so I had to stay away from everything and everyone. There is no way to describe the feeling of running your hands through your hair and having it all fall out, clump after clump. It’s truly nauseating. I lost weight, I was in pain, and eventually I lost my mind. I’ve never experienced anxiety in my entire life until I started having panic attacks, fainting, having flash backs of going into respiratory failure, and thinking I was going to stop breathing and die. Sometimes I was afraid to go to sleep in case I didn’t wake up the next morning. Chemo was hard, really freaking hard, especially the one that I was on, which is basically like salvage chemo. It kills you and then brings you back to life. I went into remission after 2 cycles, and after the 4th, the cancer had returned on my chest. At this point, my doctor didn’t think a transplant would work, I went to immediate radiation, and had 2 more cycles of chemo. On August 18, 2016, after the longest and most difficult fight of my life, I went into complete remission.
It was the hardest year of my life, and cancer has completely changed me. I’m not the same girl that walked into Doctors Hospital on January 28th. Looking back at pictures and videos, I can’t even recognize that girl. Through out that year, I realized I have the best family and friends in the entire world. I have the best nurses and the best doctor in the entire world. I have the best mom in the entire world, who literally gave up her life to be my caregiver. I met so many amazing people through social media who all have cancer, and are some of my closest friends now. It’s been a rocky road, and remission doesn’t mean everything is over. I still constantly deal with the side effects of chemo, even emotionally. Sometimes I lay in bed numb, thinking about everything I’ve been through, and wondering what I would do if I were to ever relapse. This is something that I will have to deal with for the rest of my entire life. Chemo makes you numb, it’s made me numb, sometimes to the point where i can’t even cry anymore if I tried. It’s one of the prices that I have to pay for staying alive. Every single person who had cancer will deal with this. Everyone.
So how did I change this past year? I’m strong. I’m stronger than any person that I know (except my cancer friends, of course). But I wasn’t strong by choice. Being strong was really the only option that I had. I know what it’s like to almost die, so I never take anything for granted. Ever. I know what it’s like to be up all night after chemo not knowing how the hell you are going to make it through another day of torture, or if you even will make it through. TOO many people don’t, and it’s not fair. I know what it’s like to be in so much pain that you physically can’t leave your bed. I know what it’s like to be scared. I know what it’s like to not really know if your treatment is going to work. I know what it’s like to feel like you want to give up. So, I do what I want, when I want, because I realize that tomorrow isn’t promised. For anyone. I care more deeply about the people that were loyal to me and that stood by me through my journey, and have an attachment to all of them, probably more than they will ever know. I don’t think twice about the people who didn’t stick by me, because when you get cancer, you learn who your real friends are. Unfortunately, you will end up losing a few too. But in the end, you’ll realize that losing these people is not really a loss. The people that ditched out during cancer and the ones who turned out to be extremely shady have to live with the fact that they are no longer part of my life. This will haunt them forever, while people who have had cancer and have been through hell and back CAN’T be haunted. Nothing haunts us much anymore. (Thanks Daynah, my guest speaker for that part!) You might even become numb to things like this. I still don’t know if cancer has made me care more, less, or not at all in these types of situations. At this point, I’m going to go with not at all. I also care more deeply and sympathize more with any person who has ever had to deal with this horrible disease. I have been through absolute hell, so I also know that I can do it again. I know that I can survive anything. I know what’s important in life, and it’s being a good person, being around good people, and never taking anything for granted. Ever. It’s about living in the moment, because we will never know how many we have left. Cancer doesn’t care how old you are, how healthy you eat, what you do for a living, what you look like, or who you are. It can attack anyone at any given time and turn your entire life upside down.
A year ago when I was diagnosed, I would have never, ever, ever guessed that I would write a book, and dedicate it to my doctor. My doctor saved my life. I would 100% be dead if I wasn’t lucky enough to have the privilege of being transferred to him. He took a broken, 28 year old with cancer in every single organ of her body, and made her whole again. He saved me, and he also saved one of my friends that I recently met at Sylvester. He saves everyone. He’s the one that everyone goes to when they are such high risk cancer patients, that they don’t even know if they can be saved. Other doctors don’t even know if they can be saved. But at the end of the day, he fixes every broken patient that comes to him. Not only did he save my life, but he changed it, and not a day goes by where I don’t ask myself if what I’m doing with my life would make him proud. That’s why I wrote a book. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t fix broken patients like he can, but I can definitely help them get through this rollercoaster ride, because I’ve been there, and I totally understand and get what everyone is going through. And even though the proceeds made from the book aren’t a lot, they will help Dr. Lossos save even more patients. He gave me a second shot at life, so the least I can do is try to create awareness, support, and help him give other patients like me a second chance at life. So, that was my 2016. It was the worst and best year of my entire life. If you’re going through this right now, you’ll have the same thoughts when you’re done with treatment. You will never be the same again. It will all work out, for the better. I promise.
Find my book “Talk Cancer To Me” available at amazon here: