So much can happen in such a short amount of time. These past months flew by, yet I feel like I need time to go even faster. As many of you know, I was diagnosed with cancer at the end of March, and I’ve been battling it since. The outpouring amount of support, love and kindness I am receiving is tremendous. Cancer is a funny thing. It’s meant to destroy your body and potentially your life. For me, it took away my comfort, my hair, my immune system, and my final months of enjoying a normal undergrad life in college. But throughout the last few months, I feel like I gained so much more. Everyone associates the word “cancer” as such a terrible thing…and trust me, it is. However, you can always find beauty in any crappy situation that life throws at you..right, Brian? :) So before I share what beauty I found in being ill, here’s a quick story of what happened to me:
It all started with a fat leg.
I’m a runner. At least, that’s what I pretend to be. My endurance actually sucks and I don’t run very fast. In Feb., I started a new regimen at the gym and began running really fast intervals. Around mid-Feb., I noticed my left leg starting to hurt, specifically in my thigh. I ignored it and passed it off as my body being sore from running intervals. Bad idea. On Feb. 27th, I noticed my whole entire leg started to swell up. Actual quote from one of my best friends Eddie: “Holy shit. Your leg is fat.” Which was when I decided to go to the emergency room. The nurses sent me to get an ultrasound, and it turned out that I had an extensive blood clot running up my entire thigh. I was immediately checked into the hospital and put on blood thinners to make sure the clot didn’t travel to my lungs or brain.
Hospital food sucks – but the ICU can actually be quite nice
On the second day of my hospital stay, my doctors agreed that it would be a good idea to try to remove as much of my blood clot as possible through a simple technique that involved inserting some blood de-clottification meds (technical term I made up myself) into the back of my thigh. They also inserted a filter into my inferior vena cava to make sure any clots that dislodged from my leg wouldn’t move to other vital organs. After these procedures, I was placed in the ICU because the drugs they used on me can cause really yuck side effects, like bleeding in the brain. I actually liked being in the ICU, because the nurses pay so much more attention to you..and you get a private room! The sucky part was that I was placed on a fluids only diet for 2 days. But things can get worse. And it did.
The birth of Timmy the Tumor
On the 4th day of being in the hospital, my doctor decided to do another ultrasound of my leg to see how much of my clot dissolved. The ultrasound technician spent an hour pressing that stupid device that they use on pregnant ladies into my thigh, because she noticed something was blocking the blood flow in my leg. They sent me for an MRI and lo and behold – they found a tumor compressing on my veins. So what do I do after I was done crying? I name the damn thing. Thus, the birth of Timmy the Tumor.
“There is a 95% chance that this tumor is benign. But as your surgeon, I can’t tell you 100% until we get the actual biopsy results.” Dr. Rapp’s words were really reassuring to my whole family and I. Unfortunately, two weeks later, I found myself sitting in his office again, my whole mind and body numb as he explained that my tumor is in fact, quite the opposite of benign. I was diagnosed with a very rare form of a malignant High-grade Synovial Sarcoma that was growing in my upper thigh. High-grade means it has the potential to grow and spread much faster than a low-grade tumor. How did I get so lucky?
Lucky to have my leg..for now.
Dr. Rapp immediately helped me get an appointment with Dr. Rosen – an Oncologist that has been specializing in Sarcomas since the 70s. Upon meeting him, I immediately liked him, mainly because he was wearing a bow-tie. His brilliance clashed with his communication skills, but I wouldn’t have his bluntness any other way. I definitely didn’t want him to hold back how serious (or not) my cancer was. He started our conversation by saying: “You are very lucky. If this was 30 years ago, we would’ve chopped your leg off, and you probably would’ve died anyway.” He said that amputation of my leg is still possible, but not very likely. I try to keep that thought at the back of my mind though. (Maybe I can run faster with a prosthetic leg! Now isn’t that a thought…)
I was mentally prepared for my first round of chemo. Physically, not so much. My first round would consist of 192 consecutive hours of the toxin being injected into my body. I was sent home with a 24-hr. spiffy chemo bag..which really just looked like a fanny pack. Since Dr. Rosen had said that I probably wouldn’t feel the effects until the 5th day into treatment, I made the mistake of agreeing to a cousins-night-out on the 3rd day of treatment. I had to cancel the dinner plans when I found myself puking almost every hour starting on the 2nd day of treatment. However, my cousins came over my house anyway. How did they spend the night? By keeping me company and sitting around my bed as I got sick over and over again. Towards the end of the night, I kept repeating that I couldn’t do this…and I wanted it all to be over. My cousin Jenn held my hand as my brother Vin gave me a hug and a smile and simply said: “Nope. You can’t give up. You can do this.” To the best of my ability, I smiled back, then puked again. Family: it’s a beautiful thing.
Where I am currently
Almost 3 months later, I have gone through a total of 3 chemo treatments, 2 blood transfusions, a platelet transfusion, 19 radiation treatments (with only 6 more to go!) and a LOT of time being confined in my house because my white blood cell counts were dangerously low. During my chemo weeks, I literally sleep and puke my days away, so time fortunately goes by quick. The days following chemo, however, can really kick my butt. Nausea doesn’t go away immediately after they take you off chemo. For me, it takes a good week for my nausea, heartburn, headaches and fatigue to start wearing off. The good news is that my tumor is definitely shrinking and Dr. Rosen is really happy with my progress. Surgery will be sometime in July, so I will have another chemo session before that. I’m just waiting for my platelet and white blood cell counts to go back up again before they can restart the drugs. I’m crossing my fingers that a leg amputation is still not needed, and hopefully they can just take out the tumor.
Seeing the beauty in cancer…and the beauty in people
I will never, ever feel lucky that I got cancer. However, I find myself realizing that I have been learning so much about myself and about others throughout my battle. For one thing, I discovered that I actually have a nice shaped head! Would I ever shave all my hair off again? No. But at least I know I don’t look terrible as a baldy. Ok, seriously though: I discovered the beauty of kindness. Since my diagnosis, I have received cards and letters from people who I’ve never even met before. Friends come out of their way to visit me at home. (Brian & Kristina – I’ll find a way to make it up to you both for missing your visit!!). Eddie & my other best friend Marissa even started a relay for life team for me back in Syracuse. I reconnected with my high school best friends and they’ve given me the best laughs whenever I felt down. Jen – you’re still crazy as ever and you have no idea how much your sense of humor and friendship means to me. As for my family – I couldn’t ask for a better one. My parents have been taking such great care of me, and Vin has been checking in on me daily from California. My cousins turned into my siblings, and my aunts & uncles treat me as if I were their own daughter.
Cancer can beat me up as much as it wants to…but because of all the support and love I’ve been receiving, I actually find it hard not to smile some days. So thank you everyone. I can’t find a better way to repay you guys except for beating this cancer back to remission.