Chemotherapy is a fight against yourself. This is the way that I can best describe it.Hi! I’m Lauren, and I was a 20-year-old college student from New York when I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
After being diagnosed with cancer, my oncologist told me that I had to complete six cycles of ABVD over six months. Each cycle consisted of two rounds of chemotherapy, and my infusions were every other week from January to June of 2023, meaning I had 12 rounds of chemo in total.
It’s ok to not be ok
There’s nothing that can truly prepare you emotionally for your first day of chemo, no matter how many people you talk to, articles you read, or even this blog (though I so badly wish it could). What I can do is share my experience so that you know you are not alone and that everything and anything you feel is normal.
I had chemo every other Tuesday from 11 am to 2 pm each visit. Walking into the infusion center for the first time was surreal in the worst way possible. I wanted to say, “Nope, not me. You’ve got the wrong person.” and turn right around, but of course, I couldn’t do that, so I continued to walk to my chair. After being introduced to my infusion nurse Jackie, and learning about each type of chemo I was going to receive, she accessed my port. When she left, and I was sitting there hooked up to the infusion machine, there was nothing I wanted to do more than just scream and cry. I was so so angry, and all I wanted to do was leave. I felt the same way every single time I was back in that chair.
Chemo is brutal and relentless
To say chemo was brutal and relentless would be an understatement and it never seemed to get easier. It was true what my oncologist told me: the effects are cumulative and every round of chemo left me a little more tired and a little more weak. This was the part that was hardest for me to accept. I just didn’t understand how I felt so tired, weak, and could barely recognize myself, but at the same time I was supposedly beating cancer. I hated that I looked exhausted and sick when in reality I was becoming healthier and I was healing.
Chemotherapy is supposed to help your body fight cancer, but at the same time it is destroying everything else along the way. You lose your hair, the color in your face, your energy, your appetite, and sometimes your positivity. I know that everyone tells you to stay strong and think positively, but sometimes it feels impossible. I’m not saying all the time, but there will be moments when you really don’t think you can take anymore. You will have to fight so hard to get up some mornings or to simply put a smile on your face, all while trying to accept that you have to go through this in order to get better. This is why I say that chemo is a fight against yourself.
During my 6 months of treatment, I based my life on what I called good weeks and chemo weeks because of my treatments every other Tuesday. Good weeks were the 7 days between chemo treatments where I had energy, hung out with friends, saw family, worked, had fun, and lived a relatively normal life. Chemo weeks, on the other hand, were anything but fun. I had the same routine for every single chemo week:
Monday: The day before chemo. Technically, this day was part of a good week, but by the end of the day, I would start preparing for chemo the following day and for the rest of the week. I found myself being really quiet and wanting to be alone to mentally prepare myself for a draining week. The night before chemo was always hard because I knew that when I woke up, I had to go to the infusion center.
Tuesday: Chemo day. Wake up at 8, get dressed, force myself to eat something, drink a bottle of water, pack my bag, and leave for chemo. I never told anyone this, but when I got to the infusion center, I would go to the small bathroom every time and cry for just a minute. I would tell myself in the mirror: You are strong. You can do this. Chemo will be over soon. I always felt a little bit more prepared for chemo after doing this, and I know it probably sounds strange, but it worked for me, and you will find what works for you. My nurse, Jackie, would then access my port, administer anti-nausea meds, and finally administer the chemo. I was in the infusion center for 3 hours every other Tuesday before I would go home, shower, and sleep for the rest of the day.
Wednesday: I always had to go back to the infusion center around 3:30 on Wednesdays to get a shot to boost the growth of my white blood cells. Symptom-wise, the day after chemo was never too bad because of the steroids I was given during treatment the day before.
Thursday and Friday: These were my worst days during chemo weeks. I felt awful, was tired, didn’t have the energy to move or even talk. My bones hurt, and my skin was sensitive. I was uncomfortable, and I felt like my body wasn’t even mine. It was the weirdest sensation, and I still can’t put it into words. I used all my energy to eat and drink the little that I could.
Saturday and Sunday: I started to feel better. My bones stopped hurting, and my skin was less sensitive. I was hungry and thirsty. Even though I was still tired, I thought of my plans for the next week and was excited. Without fail, on Sunday nights, I laughed with my sister, and that’s how I knew it was about to be another good week.
Your best is enough
I wish I could say that chemo is going to be easy and painless, but I would be lying to you. With that being said, it is not impossible, even when it feels that way.
Right before my 10th round of chemo, I lost my eyebrows and the few eyelashes I had left. I was already used to having no hair on my head, but something about losing my eyebrows and eyelashes was my final straw. I think for the first time, I truly didn’t recognize myself, and I was so mad that chemo took even more from me. I didn’t know how I was going to get through 3 more rounds of this and was second-guessing my strength. As I was scrolling on my phone and questioning myself, I read a quote that stuck with me. It might help you too.
“You are doing your best, and your best is absolutely enough-no matter what your best looks like.”
There is no right way to handle chemo or even cancer. So be gentle with yourself and know that your best is enough.
Hi! I’m Lauren, a college student from New York studying to become an elementary school teacher. The January that would have been my Spring semester of junior year I learned two things… I had Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and it’s important to ALWAYS follow your intuition no matter how many people are doubting you. I knew my intuition was correct and that something was wrong. However, I never expected it to be cancer. Ever. I encourage you to follow me as I share the life lessons learned along the way. Do it for yourself, and know you are always enough.