Life can send us in many directions. Some directions are chosen, some are not. Some are wonderful surprises, some are just a surprise. We experience blessings, obstacles and sometimes we just hit the wall.
I hit that wall on September 26, 1996. My wedding was one month away and I was consumed with those last minute ceremony details. While one side of me was occupied with planning the most important day of my life, the rest of me was experiencing bizarre health issues. Significant weight loss, hair loss, night sweats, severe itching, a constant low grade fever and extreme fatigue.
As I sat in the doctor’s office again, I wondered what was wrong this time. This was yet another appointment in a series of frustrating tests and discussions with my physician. I had found a large knot the day before at the base of my neck. I was so tired of cough syrups and antibiotics that gave me no relief. My doctor decided to do a chest x-ray to support his opinion that I had a severe sinus infection.
While waiting for him to return to the room I looked through several magazines, just waiting until I received the instructions of a prescription so I could just go home and go to sleep.
The moment he returned I knew something was going to be different about this set of instructions. He was 99% sure that I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a type of cancer that occurred in young adults. I honestly don’t remember anything else he said.
Suddenly, there I was, driving, alone, to the local pharmacy to get a prescription for nerve pills. He had advised me to have them filled because I was in shock at the moment, but would need something to help me sleep when everything settled into my mind.
This was like sticking a square peg into a round hole. I remember the pharmacist asking me several times if I was okay. I told him I was fine, but I was quite the opposite. I was afraid, confused, weak and tired at best.
I have always been pretty stubborn and independent, but at that moment I just needed somebody to sit and cry with. I didn’t want someone who said everything would be alright because I couldn’t get past the diagnosis. I was a child; a scared little girl who felt like the world was moving and leaving her in the dark, alone.
There were people who offered to talk, but none of them had experienced Hodgkin’s. How could they possibly understand what I was feeling? It especially hurt when they said, “I know how you feel,” because they didn’t.
How do you tell others that you have a disease you have never heard of and don’t really understand how to get rid of it? I made a call to my employer, not knowing when I would be able to return to work.
As church members stopped by, my frustration began to escalate. Some speculated that I must have committed a sin and was being punished by God.
I felt out of control because I was not ready to talk or joke. I had not come to terms with my diagnosis and I felt like people were invading my privacy by talking to my parents as though I wasn’t even in the room. I was very uncomfortable letting these people into my thoughts, and questions.
My official diagnosis was stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. There are only 4 stages of progression and I was in the beginning of the last stage.
My wedding day came and I enjoyed it the best I could—which really wasn’t much. The next several months were a roller coaster of emotions, decisions, surgeries, tests and chemotherapy. Treatments forced me to need assistance to the bathroom and even getting dressed.
I was still that frightened little girl who wondered, questioned and watched the world seeming to move on without her. I allowed myself to get stuck in fear. I physically ached to be normal; doing everyday things that didn’t qualify me as a cancer patient.
I see so many stories in the media about men and women who complete marathons, college degrees or other feats while being treated for cancer. Maybe it was my youth or relative inexperience with the real world, but I felt very aware of every day that passed while I was waiting to live my life.
When my last treatment occurred, I evaluated the previous six months and what I experienced. Through journaling and lots of conversations with God, I understood that He was not out to get me. To date there is no definitive cause for diagnosed Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, so I found comfort in knowing this journey was not about the illness, but what I could learn about myself.
It made me very sensitive to people who have been diagnosed with cancer. There are going to be awkward moments and everyone responds differently. I want to be sure I choose my words carefully because of the weight they carry. Patients want to be something other than a patient. Every discussion does not need to focus on cancer.
There was nothing wrong with me being a scared little girl. My marriage began with a major obstacle instead of a bed of roses. There was no honeymoon phase, but an immediate life and death health concern.
I also understood that cancer was not a death sentence but I could give it power by focusing on it. I made a choice instead to do a major overhaul on myself; after all I had been given a second chance to live. I evaluated all the things that were important to me. I questioned every belief I had in God and how I had been applying His teachings to my life.
The more I learned, the less I knew as the old saying goes, but ironically I was comforted by that. I didn’t want to follow a God that I could completely understand because then I wouldn’t need Him. I valued the mystery of Him and His ways. I am the created and if my knowledge exceeded my creator then everything would mean nothing.
I had to understand that I was a survivor the second I was diagnosed and that was a monumental event for me to be proud of. I have been blessed with a wonderful husband who truly lives our wedding vows. We knew there was a significant chance for me not to be able to have children, but God showed faithfulness by giving us a son.
I prayed frequently during my treatments that God would never allow me to forget what this experience felt like. I truly wanted to be able to empathize with other cancer patients rather than letting empty clichés fill their ears.
I have been blessed with many speaking and writing engagements allowing me to share my story. Just in our community alone, there are people with no support system, no resources and a bleak outlook. This is the reason I am honored to be a part of the Tricia Creasey Foundation. We need each other. My story is not just for me. Your story is not just for you. We are not designed to experience this life alone, and frankly I don’t want to.
I doubt there is anyone who reads this that has not been affected by cancer in some way.
On March 12, 2014, I will celebrate 17 years of being cancer free. Help me celebrate my “birthday” with a donation! I challenge you to make a donation in honor of yourself if you are a survivor. That is an amazing accomplishment. You can also contribute to honor someone’s memory or their victory over this disease. Donations of any amount are welcome and critical.
Funds donated are used to assist cancer patients with utilities, groceries and other necessities. A scholarship is also gifted to a qualified, rising college student at the school where Tricia Creasey taught.
Empower area cancer patients to be able to focus on recovery instead of basic needs. You can be the donor to take away worries for families about where their next meal is coming from or how they will find a way to keep their power on.
Invest in our community…in your community, today.