My cancer journey has been a relatively short but hard road.
In May 2010, I had bronchitis while on vacation. I saw a doctor immediately and I was given some antibiotics and an inhaler. In a week, I felt better. I come back home and another two weeks pass and I feel fine. Then my husband comes down with bronchitis and so do I. Our doctor prescribes antibiotics to him but not to me. Husband feels better in a week but I don’t.
I continue to have trouble breathing. And every week it gets worse.
I go back to the doctor three times and each time he assures me that it’s either allergies or that I’m asthmatic. He hands me an inhaler and sends me on my way with out doing any allergy or asthma tests.
By this point it’s Labor Day and I’ve spent the whole summer sick. I can’t walk across my small apartment with out having to stop to catch my breath. I’ve stopped cooking and cleaning because I have to keep taking breaks. I’m also having very dry coughing fits that leave me gasping for air.
I go for a second opinion thinking that I have whooping cough (that’s what my cough sounded like). This doctor admits that she’s not quite sure she knows what’s going on but she’s sending me for a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia. I get it done the next day and that afternoon the doctor calls me into her office.
The x-ray, she explains, shows that my heart is enlarged but my lungs are fine. Her secretary calls up her go to cardiologist and I have an appointment for an echocardiogram the next morning. My doctor reassures me that it’s most likely nothing serious.
At the cardiologist’s office, the technician performs the echo and almost immediately calls for the Physician’s Assistant to look at the monitor. They’re very concerned about the amount of fluid around my heart and tell me to go the hospital NOW. They give my doc the heads up and she reassures me that again, this is no big deal and the surgery is very routine. My husband is worried but he says to me “Well at least it isn’t cancer.”
Famous last words.
I meet the cardiac surgeon and he talks us through the surgery. The plan was to do a pericardial window and let the fluid drain into my abdomen where it would be reabsorbed by my body and not cause me harm. I would be discharged from the hospital the next day with orders to take it easy for the following two weeks until the incision fully heals.
That night I wake up from anesthesia and I say to my husband that he must be feeling relieved now that the surgery is over and I don’t have cancer. He starts to sob and says, “No Vanessa, you do have cancer. The effusion was caused by a tumor around your heart. You have lymphoma.” I remember blinking a few times, saying to my husband “Don’t cry. I’ll be OK” and passing out.
I’m in the hospital for a few days before meeting with my oncology team. Dr Mato gives me the low down. I have Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma, stage 2. The tumor itself is about 11cm, the size of a grapefruit and it’s pressing against my heart and lungs causing all of my symptoms.
I had six rounds of HyperCVAD (3 A and 3 B cycles) over the course of four months. Each round was given in patient so I spent 4-5 days in the hospital each time. Three days after each B cycle, I would spend a week in the hospital with a neutropenic fever. My last B cycle I not only had an awful fever episode, I also lost control of my bowels and I had several mouth and throat ulcers making eating, drinking, or speaking impossible.
I also received a bunch of blood and platelet transfusions, both in and out patient. My hair fell out right after my first chemo treatment and I haven’t had a menstrual period since September. I would dehydrate quickly and I also had many accidents where I couldn’t control my bladder or my bowels. Also my finger tips were numb and most days time felt as if it was crawling by.
But when I look at the whole picture, it really wasn’t that bad. I still went out when I had energy and I didn’t loose too much weight. My skin color wasn’t too bad either. And in the end, it saved my life.
EDIT: I turned 26 on June 17th and my last scan on May 23rd came back remission. As I progress further along in my recovery, I’ll keep updating this page. One thing I did notice was that my finger nails became thick and brittle after my last round of chemo. It took six months and a few manicures to get rid of that. The new nail that grew in is clear and normal.