Overcoming Cancer Not Once, But Twice
Advocacy A Hodgkin’s survivor shares his journey from initial diagnosis to a recent doctor’s visit confirming a second remission of the disease.
I was initially diagnosed in February of 2010 with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. At this point in my life I was living In State College, PA, working as a bartender at one of the many local watering holes in the town.
I started noticing lumps in and around my neck that did not subside. Shortly after these lumps became pronounced, I noticed a multitude other symptoms I had never seen before or even heard about. I had night sweats, lost a significant amount of weight and was constantly fatigued.
I did not have health insurance at the time, so I made an appointment at a local volunteer health clinic expecting to be given some antibiotics and sent on my way — as any 26-year-old might. After seeing the initial reaction to my symptoms by the volunteer doctor, I realized I had grossly underestimated the severity of the situation. I had a biopsy performed and was told I had either leukemia or lymphoma.
Getting in gear
I always try to point out that the reason I had found out this horrible news was due to the kindness and compassion of multiple people I had never met before volunteering their time to help people like me. It's funny how things work out sometimes. This is something I still l keep with me to this day and will never forget.
After a few phone calls and doctor appointments, I made my way back home to the Philadelphia area to get treated at a local cancer center. For the uninitiated, this is where the shock wore off and reality hit home. Due to my advanced diagnosis, I was put on a very potent chemotherapy regiment over a short period of time. Time was of the essence.
I went through a barrage of tests along with a two-week waiting period to start my treatment. This two week waiting period was easily the longest two weeks of my life. I had a laundry list of questions with no answers. I all I had was time to think. In hindsight, this short period helped me grow as a person and reflect on the battle I was about to undertake, but at the time it was brutal.
Words of wisdom
As someone who has gone through this process — now twice as a patient — the worst thing you can do as a friend or relative is act differently in everyday life. Obviously, a cancer diagnosis is a huge elephant in the room. I can say from experience that not addressing this issue just makes the situation that much worse.
“As someone who has gone through this process — now twice as a patient — the worst thing you can do as a friend or relative is act differently in everyday life.”
My close relatives were devastated, especially my parents. But early on I took the approach of realizing there was nothing I could do about it aside from listen to my doctors and go through the treatments. I never once looked at it as a death sentence. If anything, it was an eye-opening experience to live life to the fullest, even with a Stage 4 diagnosis. Maintaining a positive attitude is imperative and I made it a point on good days or bad days to act like myself. I can safely say this has made all the difference, especially after a relapse of my disease in July of 2015.
After I was given news of my disease subsiding and a clean PET scan I moved back to State College for a few years and then eventually back to Philadelphia. After a short stay, I made my way to Pittsburgh where I live today. I was receiving yearly checkups and everything was progressing nicely.
The second case
After five years of remission I found a lump on my groin. In 2010, I'll be the first to admit I ignored a barrage of symptoms due to ignorance and just plain assuming there was no way I was significantly ill. In 2015, after finding that pea-sized lump, there was no ignoring it. I knew exactly what was happening. I was immediately assigned a Hematologist and went back into treatment to get my cancer back into remission. After four more rounds of high dose chemotherapy I started the process for a bone marrow transplant back in Philadelphia. After a month in the hospital over Christmas 2015, and 16 more rounds of maintenance chemotherapy, I was recently informed my annual PET scan was clear again.
The main reason I’m telling this story is to educate. Don't ignore symptoms like I did. Make sure you have health insurance — no matter what age. Get regular checkups with your physician. I also want to point out though that a cancer diagnosis is not the end of the world. Aside from a couple of intense moments and speed bumps in my journey, I have lived my life just as I would have if I were not diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. If anything, my quality of life is better. I made countless friendships along the way. I recently purchased a home and am getting close back to working full time. If I can leave you all with one thing it is to never hesitate, to be spontaneous and to live life to the fullest.
I would not be sitting here today if I didn't try to live by these rules.