Have you ever had a overwhelming urge to follow you instincts? I’ve always considered myself as being a healthy person with minimal health problems. Six months ago I was diagnosed with stage IV Follicular Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. My first symptom, a small lump on the side of my neck, appeared last July right before my annual physical. My doctor assured me it was very common – a small swollen lymph node. Nothing to worry about just keep an eye on it. The second symptom didn’t start until the end of September. My right eye started getting very sore, itchy, and the area around my eye was inflamed and swollen. After several weekly doctor visits to different types of doctors in October including a surgeon who didn’t believe I needed a biopsy of the lymph node because it was only on the surface, no one could find anything wrong. They tried eye drops, blood tests, allergy medication, eye pressure tests, and prednisone.
It is now the end of October and I make yet another appointment with my doctor. Seeing how concerned I was and not knowing what was wrong, she schedule a CT scan that afternoon. The CT scan appeared to be fine so I requested a referral to see a specialist. Within the week I had an appointment with Dr. Joseph, an ENT specialist in Lewiston. He took one look at the CT scan and immediately located a large tumor on my lacrimal gland. Where the tumor was located so close to my eye, he recommended I see another specialist, Dr. Townsend, in Boston whom he believed could save my eye. That’s all I need to hear, my husband and I where off to Boston.
It is now the middle of November. The CT scan didn’t give Dr. Townsend a clear enough picture for the surgery so he wanted a MRI done immediately. He realized we traveled over three hours to Boston to see him. Dr. Townsend was wonderful.. He actually called the hospital himself and made arrangements for me to have the MRI at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary that afternoon and walk us over to the hospital. He helped us register and showed us where the MRI department was located. Before he left he gave me his card with his cell phone number and told us to call him anytime. He called me later that evening as we were traveling home and gave me the news. I had lymphoma that was located beyond the lacrimal gland and he scheduled me for day surgery November 21st. By now my eye was almost sealed close and I could barely see it was so swollen. A frozen biopsy completely just before surgery showed the walnut size tumor was benign. The surgery was a success and in the recovery room I couldn’t believe how well I could see. My eye healed up quite well. December 1st I went back to Boston for my post surgery check-up and to take the stitches out. We still didn’t have the results of the pathology report. Dr. Townsend wanted me to start 17 radiation treatments in Lewiston to make sure there were no other traces of the lymphoma left but before I could start treatments he wanted my radiation oncologist, Dr. Jones, to do further testing to make sure the lymphoma hadn’t spread. I immediately was set up with a CT scan and a PET scan. Finally the pathology report came back and the original tumor was malignant not benign.
Now it is December 9th and I am referred to Dr. Erickson, an oncologist . She gives me the news, the PET scan shows the lymphoma has spread to shoulder, between my breast, my abdomen area and my spleen. What a shock that was because I didn’t feel sick at all. If it wasn’t for my eye problem and insisting something wasn’t right, I wouldn’t have known anything was wrong. Dr. Erickson recommended 6 to 8 sessions of very aggressive chemotherapy called R-CHOP every three weeks. (Rituxan, Cytoxan, Adriamycin, Vincristine, and Prednisone ) I started my chemo on December 10th after my surgery to insert the Port. She gave me a 75-80% chance I would be in remission in six months and I have complete faith in her and myself. It is now time to access my inner strength – push through with determination and strength.
Hope means seeing that the outcome you want is possible, and then working for it. Life is precious. Whatever you want most can be yours. We all have a wish list of hopes and dreams, a vision of life the way we want it to be. And sometimes, that life can seem so far away. But it’s not! Because the only real secret to success is realizing you are worthy! Once you embrace that, there is no stopping you.
When I was first diagnosed, someone said to me, “You always exercised, walked, and ate healthy, and it didn’t matter,” but that was wrong because having a healthy lifestyle has helped me defend my body against some of the difficult aspects of my treatment. I am more aware and focused on eating the right foods and taking care of my body. I drink plenty of water to help cleanse my body especially to help flush out the toxins left over from my treatments.
Staying positive and keeping a healthy mind also helped me respond to the stress of dealing with NHL and my treatments. I actually relaxed everyday with a hypnosis tape by Julie Griffin called “Cancer Be Gone.” This tape that helped me engage in positive thoughts and image myself as cancer free. I reaffirm myself constantly with positive messages. I think of how strong my body is, how good it feels most of the time. I talk to my insides and repeat to myself, “I am strong and healthy” to help keep myself focused and determined.
Believe me it hasn’t always been easy. My chemo treatments lasted about 7-8 hours each session. The different side effects I experienced were nausea, achy body, fatigue, hair loss, constipation, diarrhea, sometimes loss of taste, mouth sores, and the worst for me was dry mouth. I was so grateful that I still had my eyesight that I handled my hair loss quite well. I was very fortunate that my appetite remained pretty healthy and I tried to exercise often by going for short walks.
After my third chemo I had a CT scan of my chest and abdomen area. The scan showed that 50% of the cancer had disappeared. We were quite excited about the great news. Just before my fifth chemo my eye started getting some of the same symptoms as before my surgery – swollen, blurry vision, and fluid in my eyelids. I made an appointment with Dr. Erickson. Two days I had a MRI which showed another tumor had grown around my eye. I had my fifth chemo that next day and my doctors decided to start 17 radiation treatments three weeks later. The doctors were hoping the chemo would take care of the orbit area but it only masked the symptoms. I completed my radiation on April 14th and my last chemo on April 15th. Now it is time for my body to heal. My PET scan is schedule for June 1st and I feel positive I am in remission right now.
Recently I was honored as the 2009 River Valley Chamber of Commerce Volunteer of the Year. I am deeply honored and grateful to have been chosen for this wonderful award. I have had the privilege of being a director on the board for the River Valley Chamber of Commerce for the last fifteen years. I became involved in volunteer groups because I was interested in helping people. It has enriched my life.
Now I am on receiving end. The words “Thank You” hardly seem enough for all the amazing people that come together for you when you are going through a difficult time.
I would like to thank my husband, Jack, my family, my FSB family, and all my special friends that supported me during my illness. All the wonderful meals, gifts, cards, e-mails, telephone calls, letters, trips to the doctors, rides to Lewiston for radiation, lunch dates, and especially the visits. The support and encouragement I’ve received has been tremendous and overwhelming. This support has given me the strength to stay determined and strong. I have a wonderful loving family and that’s what keeps me positive an hopeful. I am truly blessed with good friends that are so supportive.
I encourage others to become their own health advocate. You know your own body better than anyone. Don’t be afraid to insist on tests if you think something about your health is wrong. It may save your life. I know it did mine.
Cherish Yesterday, Dream Tomorrow, Live Today.