That is an amazing feeling after 24 weeks of the same routine. Instead of my eyes bugging out, my stomach wrenching and my head spinning, I am drinking a Bud Light Golden Wheat, eating Whole Foods white pizza and watching trashy Access Hollywood after an accomplished day at work. Except for my torn calf muscle from delving back into heels too quickly I'm not even thinking about how my body feels.
I felt that little gum ball in my armpit.
I can picture the moment clear as day. I was adjusting my position on the couch and felt a strange tug under my arm. I felt where it was hurting and detected this hard, little ball that I could move back and forth. Craig felt it too and I think in that moment we were both hoping that it was just a knotted muscle or something else that could easily be written off. Then I felt another lump behind my ear - again, thought it could be a swollen bug bite or something. Ironically, I had a routine physical scheduled for the very next day. I showed the lumps to my PCP and it all spiraled from there ... more lumps kept appearing and more and more tests were ordered.
My doctors took me seriously.
Though it took some time to figure out what was wrong with me, my PCP never made me feel like a hypochondriac, like a complainer or like someone who had no idea what she was talking about. Every time I called her to tell her I found another lump, that my leg was going numb, or that I was increasingly fatigued, she brought me back in for more evaluations - blood tests, breathing and heart rate tests. When I called to tell her that I couldn't move my neck because it was so painful and swollen she immediately sent me to the ER. There I also lucked out with a physician on duty who immediately saw to my needs and got me on the tract for evaluation, admission and biopsy surgery. She matched me with my oncologist, a man that I have the utmost respect for.
I'll never forget when he came to introduce himself to me while I was in the hospital awaiting my biopsy. Oddly, I remember him telling me that I had very nice hair and that I shouldn't be worried, most of the time it just thins ... . I immediately felt comfortable with him as he crouched by my hospital bedside and calmly explained to me what my biopsy would likely reveal, what Hodgkin's Lymphoma was and what the next steps were. With my hacking hospital roommate listening through the thin curtain, my doctor and I discussed it all. I remember his voice being so calming even though the words coming out of his mouth were the most distressing I had ever heard in my life. That calm voice continued for six months. He listened intently and thoughtfully answered every single one of my questions along the way. He was always positive, always encouraging, but also realistic. He would call me back within hours. He set me up with the best doctors to talk about fertility and colorectal issues. I never, ever doubted his expertise or felt like just another patient.
I've heard so, so many stories of young adults especially fighting awful battles with doctor after doctor aching to find someone to take them seriously. Let alone, find someone full of an incredible amount of expertise and compassion as I found. I did not have one bad experience with a member of the medical staff that cared for me. In fact, they made me feel like I was one of their own family members they were caring for every step of the way.
I got the chance to stare death in the face.
This is something that many people never get the chance to do - let alone someone in their twenties. At age 26 I've been afforded the chance to truly understand the delicateness of life. To truly understand that our time here is only temporary and you never, ever know when that time will be up. There's an immense amount of lessons found in that. Going through what I've gone through I'm no longer scared of dying. I don't want to die - I want to live until 127. But if I did die tomorrow I can say that in my short life I had the chance to truly appreciate how good I had it, how amazingly beautiful life is and how exceptional the people in my life are. When people think you might be dying, you suddenly learn how much you've meant to them, to people that I didn't even know ever thought of me. That's something most people never get to realize. I had NO idea what effect I have had on people's lives and now having learned that, I'll forever be conscious of much my actions can leave an indelible mark on someone forever.
My hair gets a fresh start.
After years of spiral perms, boxed hair dye, Sun-In, highlights, highlights and more highlights, peroxide bleach, and awful haircuts, my hair will grow back with a fresh start. Maybe I'll leave it alone now.
I truly know what it feels like to love someone.
I don't think you can truly understand that until you're faced with the prospect of losing the ones that you love. My heart has been so full during all of this. When I see my husband I have such a newfound respect and admiration for him. We've been together for nearly 10 years --- since we were 17 years old. I loved him then and always, but the love that I feel now is something that is so deep it is hard to define. I was so worried about him during all of this. He always held it together. He always calmly handled me when I was off the handle. When I wanted to get out, he took me out, no matter how tired he was. When he got together with friends and I felt to sick too join, he'd call and check on me throughout the evening. We used to be a dynamic duo - best friends always doing everything together - with gusto. I know it was hard for him to lose his partner in crime to the couch over all these months. This is a man whose father died in his arms after a long fought battle with brain cancer. He does not deserve to have to watch his wife battle as well. But he did it, unfailingly. He confessed that every night he slept with one eye open - always checking to make sure that I was breathing, that I was okay.
And my parents ... oh, my parents. They were there for me in a way that was unfailing, genuine and perfect. They were never overbearing. But when I wanted it, were there to grovel over me hand and foot. They respected my decisions. They never questioned my choices to do, or not to do things. My mom especially did so well with dealing with my independent, "I can beat this" attitude see-sawing with my mental breakdowns and teary phone calls. The day I got the news that my biopsy showed malignant cells I was alone at the dog park. My mom knew I was alone and even though I told her that I would be fine waiting for the call on my own, when I pulled into my driveway she was sitting on my porch with lunch. I'll never forget how good it felt to be able to explode with choking tears into her arms as I relayed the news. Sometimes moms know what you need better than you do yourself. I am so, so lucky to have parents that love me so much and that I love back with all my heart.
And my friends. When I think about them now and all they did to help me through this I can literally feel my heart fill up. Even if it was just voicemails that they left or passing e-mails. I never, ever felt alone. I have so many people that if I needed to, I could call and they would be there for me at the drop of a hat. To know that the option was there is the greatest gift that's come out of all of this and it's made me want to be a better friend to them.
And I can't forget my dog. I'm not going to go out and buy an "I Heart My Labrador Retriever" t-shirt with a bedazzled dog face or anything, but boy do I love my Labrador Retriever. She was - and still is - right by my side, cuddling her 60-pound blonde body into my lap or clicking her nails on the wood floors following me everywhere I go. She gave me companionship when I didn't have the strength to talk to or be around anyone. The licks from her hot tongue and her constant nose nuzzles did more than any chemo drugs ever could to melt my tumors.
I've rekindled my love for writing.
It's been a release and a solace during all of the pain, confusion, and the torrent of emotions.
I've learned to find my health, despite disease. Health is a mindset.
It's all relative. I learned to make the most with what I had and gained the ability to adjust my standards of what "feeling good" felt like. Now that the chemo is leaving my system and I'm feeling better each day I'm realizing more and more how awful I really felt. But in those moments I rejoiced on the days that I could get out of bed, when I could take a deep breath, when I could think in full sentences. When my body was not healthy, I found a way to make my mind healthy. Strength of mind had to come before strength of body.
As I regain my physical strength, little things are such big things. I can chew gum again. My jaw has been swollen and locked for months and I couldn't chew tough foods on the right side of my mouth, nevermind chomp on and smack gum. I forgot how much I missed it and can't wait to continue with these little discoveries of things I forgot I've been compensating for.
I got a medical education.
I now know all about the lymphatic system, white blood cells, stem cell transplants, chemo drugs, port-a-caths, scans of all kinds, blood tests of all kinds. I know a whole new language that I've found to be fascinating.
I came out of this relatively unscathed.
All my body parts are intact. I only lost one lymph node that was stuffed with cancer anyway. Yes, I lost my hair - from my head, nose, legs, eyebrows and armpits, but it will grow back though I certainly haven't missed shaving and plucking. Razors are expensive anyway. I'm left with a scar in my underarm and there will be more when my port is removed. But to me, those will be permanent reminders of what I survived. And that is okay. It's very important to me not to forget. There are other residual issues like neurological damage to my leg and an angry colon that still hasn't healed, but that's nothing.
I know what I am capable of.
And it's a damn lot.