After a long and challenging journey, I recently reached my 5-year remission with a clean bill of health, and I can proudly say that I am a cancer survivor. How many people can say that before they’re 30 years old? I’m in an elite club, but the path I took to get here has been difficult.
It is crippling to be told again and again, “Well, your efforts and our efforts were not good enough. We need to go back to the drawing board. Let’s try again.” I experienced many challenges and defeats before I finally reached the finish line; what I learned throughout my battle is that with every setback you face, there is new ground to gain.
“The Good Cancer”
In September 2010, I was a healthy 21-year-old attending California State University in Chico to study biology and chemistry, hoping to eventually enroll as a pre-med. My journey began during an ecology field trip, while wading through Honey Run Creek in Chico. I slipped under the water, and the next day I woke up with a very swollen left eye. About 2 weeks later, a lymph node swelled underneath the skin in my neck. It was a solid mass, about the size of a large egg.
In December 2010, I was admitted to the hospital after having difficulty breathing. A doctor came in and said, “Here’s the deal, you have Hodgkin lymphoma. The good news is that this is a good cancer to have. In 6 to 8 months, you’re going to be right back on your feet going back to school.”
I was stunned. Cancer is ugly at any age, but it can be particularly earth-shattering when you’re young. The official diagnosis was stage IV Hodgkin lymphoma that was also presenting in my eye. This was the beginning of a rough road for me: I was suddenly thrown into a very adult world.
I became angry that this was my reality, and I had to fight day in and day out just to exist. Eventually, it became clear that I was fighting a very aggressive cancer: it was not the typical Hodgkin lymphoma, or “the good cancer” the doctor had suggested at my diagnosis.
With the support of my family and friends, especially my mother, who is an oncology nurse, and a devoted boyfriend, who is now my husband, I forged on. We all went into war together. It was an absolute battle, and all hands were on deck. Through multiple lines of treatment, a stem-cell transplant, and participation in a clinical trial, I achieved remission.
Defying the Odds
After my cancer treatment, my husband and I were told that I would have less than a 5% chance of being able to conceive because of the chemotherapies and radiation I received. Despite this, we decided to try for a family. In December 2015, I found out I was pregnant, but at about 8 weeks of pregnancy, I began to have heavy bleeding. My doctor was relatively certain that I had experienced a miscarriage, but she advised that I get checked. I had a sonogram, which showed that, in addition to still being pregnant, there were 2 very strong, healthy heartbeats in my womb.
At 20 weeks, we celebrated the discovery that we were having a boy and a girl. At 21 weeks, I had the gender announcement photos taken. At 22 weeks, I went into labor, and on the 23rd week plus 3 days, Savannah and Bennett entered the world. Later, we were told by the hospital that this was the earliest they would have been able to accept them, because of their birth weights. It was the beginning of a whole new terrifying fight for life.
Both Savannah and Bennett suffered from severe chronic lung disease, because of their severe premature birth, along with a plethora of other challenges. To our dismay, on Bennett’s second day of life, he had a spontaneous liver rupture. We were told that he would not make it through the night, yet remarkably, he continued to grow and heal.
Savannah and Bennett spent 132 days in the neonatal intensive care unit before we were finally able to bring our 2 little miracle babies home. That’s what we call them, because that’s exactly what they are. They were not supposed to be here, but they are doing amazingly well. They beat the odds, just like their mom.
Focused on the Future
What I went through during my journey with cancer has caused my personality and my outlook on life to change for the better. Eventually, I’ll go back to work, and it will be a new era, and a new chapter for us. My family and I are constantly opening new doors, and we are excited to see what the future holds.