When my doctor told me that I had stage IV, grade 3a follicular lymphoma, I thought that it was impossible: I had firmly put cancer in my rear view mirror seven-years prior. Yet here I was, hearing for the word “cancer” for the second time by the age of 26.
Ironically enough, I was studying to be a nurse practitioner and our class was learning to examine the lymph nodes just prior to my diagnosis. I had never felt lymph nodes before, and at the time, I remember thinking that learning about them was silly. My classmate and I were checking each other in the neck area when she mentioned that she could feel one of my lymph nodes was enlarged. I didn't think much of this because, at that point, I didn't have any symptoms and I felt totally healthy. It wasn’t until later on that I noticed that I could also feel some enlarged lymph nodes in my groin area.
During a routine follow up exam with my oncologist for the 2004 cancer, I mentioned the enlarged nodes, and he suggested checking things just to be sure. After having several scans, my results came back as "suspicious for metastatic disease."
We quickly found that this was not the return of the isolated cancer I had already overcome; this was something new entirely. Even with my medical background and my previous oncology experience, I found myself at a loss for the information I knew would be critical to my fight.
My previous treatments had already left me at the maximum life-time allowed dosage for one of the recommended chemotherapy drugs, leaving me with a litany of questions regarding my treatment options. After receiving a second opinion and as a result, a lower grade diagnosis, I began treatment right away. However, questions surrounding my future options still remained. Luckily, a short time later, I found the Lymphoma Research Foundation (LRF).
I realized that there was an array of services offerings on lymphoma.org that I could use to educated myself on my specific disease and possible treatment options. I reviewed the literature and went home to discuss my findings and the possibility of changing my treatment plan with my oncologist. He agreed. The more I became empowered by the information from LRF, the more my fears of reoccurrence and concerns for the future began to be replaced by hope. I remember thinking that this cancer didn’t need to derail my dreams of finishing school and starting my own family.
The support that I have received from LRF extends far beyond disease and treatment information. Through the Foundation’s Lymphoma Support Network, which is their one-to-one peer group, I have connected with many other young women who have experienced the same diagnosis as me. Through these interactions I have been able to give back in recognition and appreciation of the importance of these personal connections. Over time, and with support, my fears have been replaced with hope – a hope that helped to pave the way for my road to recovery.
I am happy to say that two years and a great deal of LRF support later, I am not only once again cancer free, but my husband and I are expecting our first child.
To this day, I continue to strive to give back to LRF and other like-minded organizations. The Lymphoma Research Foundation is able to provide vital education resources and patient services, all free of charge for patients, survivors and their loved ones, and for me, I feel a personal responsibility to try to help change the future for the more than 80,000 people diagnosed each year with lymphoma and the more than 700,000 living with or in remission from lymphoma, by supporting LRF in any way that I can. I know firsthand what a difference hope through education can make to a lymphoma patient and their family; just as it did for me.