As many of you know and some might suspect, I’ve recently been diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma (I knew you were going to Wikipedia it so I made it easy for you). In short, it is a blood cancer found in certain white blood cells called lymphocytes, specifically the Reed-Sternberg cells. The type I have is called Nodular Sclerosis. I’ll preface this by saying that I feel fine, and it’s a very treatable form of cancer and can even be cured.
Your next question might be… so if you feel so great, how did you find out you had cancer?
Well, it was a process. At the beginning of April I very fortuitously switched primary care managers and chose a physician at a large healthcare system in Central Texas. I had gone to the same health care system when I lived in Killeen near Fort Hood, Texas in 2010-2011 and really missed the level of care I received there. The primary care manager I chose when I moved closer to Austin, Texas just couldn’t provide the same level of care and I was tired of having to get referrals constantly. Every six months I have blood work done to monitor my cholesterol level, which coincidentally was the lowest it’s ever been! When she ran the test, however, she found some mildly concerning things: I was anemic and my white blood cell count was high. It’s not uncommon for young women to be anemic, and I’ve pretty much lived with a sinus infection since moving to Central Texas in November 2010, so neither one of those factors concerned me. However, being the great physician she is, she ordered follow up blood work two weeks later.
Earlier the same week as my follow-up blood work, I had been itching like crazy and had also had sporadic pain in my left arm. I coincidentally had just been to Barton Springs and the Zilker Park Botanic Gardens the weekend before, so the itch I could explain away as allergies. I had also been doing Crossfit for about a month at that point, so any body aches I had were easily explained as well. On Thursday, I went in for my follow-up blood work and the next morning I woke up with severe chest pain. The pain wasn’t debilitating and I had even gotten dressed to go to work thinking it was something mild like heart burn. However, in light of my mounting list of symptoms my mom and dad (thankfully) suggested I go to the ER. Luckily the health care system my PCM belongs to has a hospital in Round Rock, Texas about five minutes down the road from my house. They were able to pull up my labs from the day before very quickly and see that my white blood cell count had increased significantly.
After eliminating heart attack, they pretty much assumed it was pneumonia and ordered a chest X-ray– which I supposed looked fishy, so they ordered a CT scan which determined I had a mass and not pneumonia. They referred me to a pulmonologist the following Monday (coincidentally my 25th birthday) and I had a bronchoscopy that Tuesday. So after a week’s worth of obsession, that Friday they told me that the bronchoscopy samples were inconclusive. I was referred to a radiologist next for a more guided biopsy called fine needle aspiration which was performed last Tuesday. Last Friday I received the diagnosis– Hodgkin’s.
So many people ask how I took the news. I was honestly relieved. There was relief at finally having a diagnosis and being able to move forward to the next step. Also, after three weeks of obsessive Googling I had become extremely concerned about various forms of cancer. Not that any cancer is good, but many other cancers even at early stages have worse prognoses than Hodgkin’s does at even later stages. So when I heard Hodgkin’s, knowing it had positive prognosis rates and could even be cured, you can understand my relief.
So what’s going on now? I was referred to an oncologist who has ordered lots of tests this week. So far I’ve had a pet scan, fertility counseling with a bone marrow biopsy and MUGA awaiting me tomorrow and Monday respectively. I’ll also have to get a port-a-cath placement done next week as well, which will be used during my chemo sessions at some point in the future.
I don’t have a treatment plan yet for a few reasons. The first is we’re still in the process of staging, meaning they’re running tests to determine how long I have had lymphoma and if I have any other affected areas besides the mass in my chest. The second is that chemotherapy and radiation do a number on the reproductive system. In order to preserve the ability to have children in the future, I’m in the process of fertility counseling. The added challenge to this is that my husband is active duty and currently deployed to Kuwait. This saga deserves its own blog entry in the future, but in short it’s a process that is time consuming under the best of circumstances. Adding the element that my husband is in a foreign country– frustrating and infuriating are two words that come to mind. That’s just what cancer patients don’t really have– time. I never thought I would say I hate weekends, but when you’re waiting to get results and trying to determine future treatment, weekends can be a pain in the ass for sure.
However, other than some soreness (which mainly results from the tests), I really don’t have any major symptoms. The chest pain pops up occasionally, but is almost nonexistent now. My only persistent symptom is the itching, which I’ve since found out is called pruritus. My mom and one of my sister’s (Sarah) have also blessedly and selflessly moved in with me for the time being until we can get my husband (Rene) home. They are pretty amazing, doing essentially all the house work, keeping me entertained and taking me to and from appointments when I’m too drugged up to do it myself. I also have an amazing support group of friends in the area which is a delightful mix of Louisiana folk (I’m a Louisiana native and LSU alum), church people, Army spouses and others. I also have a lot of support from afar. One of the “good” things about cancer is it really brings you closer to everyone that cares about you. Despite the bombshell I had to drop on my supporters this week, it gave me motivation to touch base with some of my loved ones that time and distance had separated me from. And I will say that I even enjoyed those conversations, because it allowed me to catch up with many of them. It also helped me rally my spirits knowing how many people were supporting me– what I’ve been referring to as “Team Laura.”
I’m hoping this blog will help me continue to bridge that gap as well and also help me connect with others that can help me through this journey through their own experience. I also want to help those that can benefit from mine.
The lime theme is in reference to the color ribbon associated with lymphomas– lime green. Hodgkin’s also claims violet, so I’m sure in time I will incorporate that as well.
My message to cancer today was…