August 16, 2023

be proud of how hard you are trying

When I got the call that I had cancer, I was torn. One part of me was in complete shock because you never think that it’s going to happen to you. The other part of me was relieved because I was validated that my intuition was correct…something was wrong. That relief quickly went away, and I think I’m still in shock now, almost eight months since I was diagnosed. 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. 

You have cancer

On January 7th, I was in the car with my mom when I got the call…”you have cancer.” I couldn’t comprehend the type, the stage, or where it was in my body. Instead, I knew I had a CT scan in 45 minutes and I had cancer. I was speechless. I didn’t know what to think or how to feel. I didn’t know how I was going to do it.

But you don’t really get a choice when you are diagnosed with cancer. You just have to keep pushing forward and take every challenge that comes your way. I learned this very early on. I mean, within two weeks of that phone call, I already had three procedures, two more scans, and countless appointments with different oncologists and fertility specialists. To sum it up, the weeks between getting diagnosed and starting chemo were hectic to say the least.

So after the call that same day I had a CT scan to determine which lymph nodes were affected and if the cancer reached any of my major organs. The cancer was found mainly in my pelvis and at the bottom of my spine, along with some affected lymph nodes in my chest, underarms, and collarbone. Luckily (if I can even use that term), the cancer did not affect any major organs.

“I didn’t know what to think or feel. I didn’t know how I was going to do it.”

Now what?

The next step was to meet with the oncologist in my healthcare group. He told me I needed to have a bone marrow aspiration/biopsy done to determine if the cancer was in my bone marrow. This procedure was done in his office using local anesthesia a few days later. It wasn’t a great time of course, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. A few days after this, I was at the hospital to get a biopsy of the original lymph node on my hip. I was put under for this procedure, and the results were used to determine what stage and type of Lymphoma I had. For me, I absolutely hate stitches and cuts, so I would say healing from this was one of my least favorite times.

While I was healing and waiting for both results, my parents and I met with an oncologist at Sloan Kettering and another oncologist at Weill Cornell. I also had a PET scan done at Sloan to get an even more clear image of the cancer in my body. I finally got all the results, and between the biopsies and scans, the oncologists finally told me the exact diagnosis. I must say, I couldn’t have gotten through this without the support of my family and friends.

Decisions, decisions

I had Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Now that I knew what I was dealing with I had to make three major decisions:

  1.  choose my oncologist
  2.  determine my course of treatment
  3.  did I want to freeze my eggs

I had approximately one day (yes, only one day) to decide all this because my doctors wanted me to start treatment as soon as possible.

My first decision was my course of treatment. I had two options presented to me by all the oncologists. Because I was 20, I could go with either the pediatric regimen (​​ABVE-PC) or the adult regimen (ABVD). The pediatric regimen meant four months of chemo and the possibility of radiation, while the adult regimen meant six months of chemo. I chose the adult regimen, ABVD, because although it was a longer treatment, it meant no radiation, which is something I didn’t want to go through.

My second decision was where and who would administer my chemo. I went with the oncologist in my healthcare group rather than at Sloan or Weill in New York City. Since my treatment was pretty standard for the type of cancer I had, I was told it didn’t matter where I went. So I decided to go local and use the oncologist closest to me. I am now very happy I went with that choice because chemo is extremely tiring and requires many appointments and visits, so a 20-minute drive was much easier than an hour to the city.

The third decision I had to make was about fertility. My oncologist recommended that I see a fertility specialist to freeze my eggs in case they were affected by the chemo. After meeting with the specialist, I decided against freezing my eggs, as it was a two-week process and required another two procedures. There was already so much going on that I didn’t really want to have to go through another major thing. I felt so much pressure surrounding whether or not to freeze my eggs from my oncologist, the fertility specialist, and others around me, so my advice to anyone in a similar situation is to do what feels right to you and only you. It’s hard, but try not to listen to everyone else’s opinions because, at the end of the day, it’s your choice.

And so it begins

As soon as I told my oncologist that I chose to go to him for chemo, he scheduled the surgery to insert my port. I was back at the hospital under general anesthesia to get my Port-A-Cath inserted, a device that’s accessed to administer and deliver chemotherapy throughout your bloodstream. The minute I woke up in the hospital and looked down at my chest, everything became very, very real. That exact moment was one of the hardest parts of my journey because it finally clicked that I had cancer, and I was about to start chemo.

The day after, exactly 17 days since I got the call that I had cancer, Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I started my first round of chemotherapy.

To be continued…

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