“I guess my story starts on March 1st, 2020. I had gone to bed with my husband and had tossed and turned all night. I couldn’t fall asleep. There was a dull pain in my hip and I couldn’t get rid of it. I’ve had this pain a few times before, so I grabbed an oat bag from my nightstand and heated it up in the microwave. It seemed to do the trick, and I drifted off into sleep. Suddenly, it was 2 a.m. and my eyes shot open. The pain had gotten so much worse, it had moved from my hip up into my lower spine, and it felt like the muscles in my back were contracting and twisting with any movement I made. At this point David, my husband, had woken up. ‘Whats wrong? Is it your back again?’ he asked me as he walked over to me. I couldn’t do anything but cling on to him and just sob. ‘Okay, that’s it! I’m taking you to the hospital.’ I tried to tell him why we couldn’t or shouldn’t go, ‘We have to serve at church tomorrow and I’ve gone before and they just gave me painkillers. What good is it to go if they are just gonna give me Tylenol and send me home?’ but he insisted and so off we drove.
When we got to the hospital it was 3 a.m. David dropped me off at the emergency room door and parked while I signed in. I remember walking in to triage and explaining my symptoms to the male nurse who had just woken up. He sleepily handed me a bracelet and told me to go into the other waiting room. I left triage and David was waiting for me, so we moved to the other waiting room. Then we moved to one of the exam rooms. Then we waited there for the doctor. I remember telling David the only reason they have so many waiting rooms is so you feel like you’re making progress, but really we had been there for two hours and had seen only the triage nurse. Finally, the doctor came in and he examined me. I remember thinking he was super nice and was really impressed he was actually taking my symptoms seriously, not just writing me a painkiller prescription and calling it a night. He got some bloodwork from me and a urine test and when both of those came back he also ordered an abdominal ultrasound. I thought it was strange to order an abdominal ultrasound for some back pain, but I wasn’t about to argue with him. He was the professional and was taking me seriously. Unfortunately, it was 6 a.m. and ultrasound didn’t open until 8 a.m., so we had to wait around for the tech to show up. We sat in the waiting room and just listened to all the stories of all the people in the rooms around us and shared memes back and forth trying to pass the time. At this point we were both deliriously tired and so anything was funny.
Finally, at 8:30 a.m., the porter showed up and took me to the ultrasound room. The tech didn’t really say anything to me and she pushed really hard with the Doppler along my ribs. I remember thinking it was a super uncomfortable experience and being totally shocked at the pressure they had to use to get the Doppler to pick up images. I stared up at the ceiling which had a painting or a projection of some bright yellow leaves against a bright blue sky. I thought it was a pretty calming image for a less than relaxing experience. When she had finished, I walked out of the room and back down to our spot in the emergency room. After about an hour the new ER doctor came into the room. ‘So, do you have any other symptoms? Any night sweats, or weight loss…’ he asked me. ‘Nothing, just this wicked back pain!’ I said. ‘Okay, so nothing too concerning came up on your ultrasound either, just a few swollen lymph nodes. I’m going to write you a prescription for some Naproxen and refer you to a clinic to get those lymph nodes checked out.’ We got the prescription and referral and left the hospital. My back pain had gone and I thought nothing of the lymph nodes. It’s weird looking back at this ER visit, because no one was wearing masks and COVID was just an illness wreaking havoc in Italy and China. That was until two weeks later, the day of my clinic appointment.
The date was Friday, March 13th. Friday the Thirteenth, so fitting. I had been tossing the idea of cancelling my appointment around all week because I felt fine and the lymph nodes, though one had swelled the week before, didn’t appear to be a problem! My mom and David both told me I needed to follow up with the appointment, because obviously the nodes were concerning enough the doctor booked me in for this appointment. So, in between my shift at the school I work for I went to the appointment. A resident doctor first looked me over and felt around my neck for lymph nodes there. Then he called in the doctor he was working with and he felt the neck as well. At this point I started to get nervous. The main doctor pulled away and sanitized his hands. ‘So, whenever we see swollen lymph nodes we immediately think cancer.’ Bam! There it was, not even a soft let down into it but more like a sucker punch to the gut, the word I was so nervous to hear. The rest of the appointment was a blur. I just know I had a ton of blood taken and put in vials and an appointment for a CAT scan booked. Before I knew it, I was somehow in my car on my way to me second half of my shift.
When I got to the school I was in bit of a fog and we were getting the kids ready to go outside. One girl was looking for her hat and couldn’t find it so I walked into the classroom to help her look. My supervisor was there and asked how my appointment had gone. Then I just broke down and started crying right there in her arms. She hugged me and I told her they said I could have cancer. I was so worried they were right because on both sides of my family I have aunts who have had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and they were both my age when they got it. She hugged me and asked if I wanted to go home, but I told her I wanted to just keep it as normal as possible and just stay at work. So I continued on. Then at 4 p.m., our first parent came to pick up and she told us the school board had announced starting Monday the schools would be closed for three weeks, including March Break, because of COVID-19. She also told us people were panic buying pasta and rice, and toilet paper was gone! This sent our center into a crazy flurry of motion. My supervisor was trying to figure out if we could still run our camps and what this meant for pay. We were trying to answer parents’ questions as best we could, but we had just as much information as they did. It was a crazy last day of work because afterwards, we wouldn’t open the doors to the building again until September. This was actually such a blessing, because now I had a totally open schedule to fill with appointments and blood work and all the things which come with a cancer diagnosis, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
In the weeks which followed I filled my time, which I suddenly had a lot of, with cooking live on Instagram, cleaning, and going to appointments. After my CAT scan they said they found a good amount of lymph nodes in my pelvic area and a few in my neck, so they scheduled a needle biopsy to check those out. I had to go to the appointment alone and my mom and sister dropped me off and in I went. When I met the surgeon who would be doing my biopsy he was wearing a hemp necklace and was tall and tan. He seemed like a really chill guy. I was rolled into the biopsy room and the doctor froze the skin around the area and then took a longer needle and froze the deeper tissue. I was wide awake for the procedure and it was actually a really cool experience. The doctor told me about how he was teaching his sons how to distill gin for their science lessons in COVID, and one of the nurses told me she had the same shoes as me. The doctor also commented on how calm I seemed. ‘Well, it’s a lot of prayer and whatever is going to happen will happen,’ I said. ‘Ah, a fatalist I see,’ he said. Really, it was a lot of prayers from so many people. I have never felt the power of prayer like I have on this journey through cancer.
A few weeks went by and I was sitting in my house watching Bridget Jones’s Diary when I got a call. The call was from the biopsy clinic. ‘We removed four samples and we found Hodgkin’s Lymphoma cells in the samples.’ The call was brief and I was a little shocked. The first thing I did was call my husband at work. ‘Hey babe, you okay?’ He always asks if I’m okay when I call him at work. ‘I got a call from the biopsy people, it’s cancer.’ I figured I might as well be upfront. I wasn’t crying and I wasn’t upset. David asked if he should come home from work but I told him not to worry about it. I got my shoes on and ran out the door and drove to my parents’ house, only eight minutes down the road. I got there and came out of the car. COVID rules had just gotten stricter and my dad had just decided David and I should probably not visit anymore, so they were surprised when I came to the door. My sister asked me, ‘Hey, what are you doing here?’ Then the tears came and they didn’t stop. I am not a big crier so when it happened my whole family knew and they raced down the front steps to hug me and told me to come inside. They wanted to know everything I knew, but truthfully I didn’t know a lot. My parents and siblings and I all gathered around in the living room and we prayed, we prayed for healing, for an early detection, and for strength. Then I headed home and called all my extended family members who also sent me their well wishes and prayers.
Immediately my family and my in-laws set to motion all the things which needed to happen. My sister-in-law works at the cancer center where I got all my treatments, so she was a huge help to me. She also set up a Facebook group to keep people updated and a meal train so I would have meals cooked for chemo weeks. My mother-in-law called her work and insisted she have Wednesdays off so she could come and watch me. My father-in-law made sure we got our groceries delivered so I wouldn’t have to risk getting sick. My family came over and made sure things were organized and I had stuff to entertain me. My mom moved her schedule around so she could drive me all around for all my treatments and blood work. Without my family rallying around me and creating such a support system for me, I would be totally overwhelmed.
Finally, the day arrived for my first chemotherapy appointment. I had done all the things in order to prep for the day; pills were swallowed, smoothie with all the flax was drank, and a bag had been packed. My mom drove me to my first appointment and dropped me off at the door. I wasn’t nervous, though. I was actually surprisingly calm. It seems to be a theme with me. And so I went to my first appointment. I got checked in at the desk and sat down in the big waiting room. Everyone there was much much older than I was. I was the youngest by a good 30 years. I always had thought of cancer as something older people got, but here I was, a living testament to just how untrue it was. The nurse called my name and into the chemo lounge I went. Again, I was greeted by a room filled with elderly people. The nurses, however, were so kind to me. Each time I showed up for an appointment they would always be happy to see me, and some even remembered me from the weeks before. They always made conversation with me while they hand-pushed my chemo meds into the IV drip. I will forever be thankful for to them for making the experience as comfortable as they could.
After finishing my first treatment I was tired. My body had just finished the first of twelve rounds of chemo and it was beat. The first was the hardest, I had pain in my jaw, tingling in my fingers and tongue, I couldn’t eat, my eyes could barely stay open. This round was also the hardest for my husband, after seeing me in so much pain with very little to do for it he cried in our hallway. My mom came back to watch me and sent out a blast to her prayer group to pray I could eat soon and start to feel better. Within two hours of the text being sent out, I was eating and drinking and feeling better. David had also called my doctor and asked for advice on what to do to make the mouth pain go away, and was given a prescription for the most disgusting mouth wash I had ever tasted in my life. Thankfully, after this first treatment, things were much better, and if I’m being honest there really were no crazy side effects from chemo again. At every appointment after I braced myself for the worst, but every time I was blessed with the best. I moved through each appointment counting them down.
After moving through the first six treatments I had my first PET scan. This scan would tell me how much the cancer had shrunk. It was Canada Day weekend and I was at a friends house celebrating and making wings when the PET report came up on my phone. I nervously opened the app and read through the report. The findings from this scan were minimal, I had almost no nodes left light up! Reading these words, I felt such relief. I called my parents and cried with them on the phone, after celebrating this win with my husband and friends with pizza and wings. Treatments continued on and it was time for my next PET scan after my eighth infusion. So, back to waiting anxiously for the results. With every scan there is a little anxiety, just like with any itch or headache. There’s a small fear of the cancer relapsing, but this scan’s results were not it. I got the results from this scan through a call. I was a bridesmaid in one of my best friend’s weddings, and the whole wedding party had loaded up in the party bus and my phone rang. It was my doctor. The whole bus went quiet and all I heard was, ‘The cancer is gone.’ Immediately, the tears started to flow, not just from me but from everyone on the bus. When I tell you I will never forget this day I am not exaggerating. During the ceremony, the groom’s father prayed for me and thanked God for the clean bill of health. At the reception, the bridal party got awards for their accomplishments and I got one for beating cancer. It was such a great day and it will always be one of my favorite days, right next to the day I got to ring the bell.
I had four more treatments left after the final PET scan, and I could get through them knowing they were my deep scrub cycles. They would be the treatments to make sure I never had to have treatment again. On my last day of treatment my mom drove me again, just like she had for almost all of my treatments. I walked in those doors, answered my COVID questionnaire, and went to my spot in the waiting room. I was filled with butterflies. My name was called one last time and off I went. The nurse had a hard time finding a good view after all the pokes and prods of the last six months, but then she found one and we were off to the races. At 3:52 p.m. on October 6th of 2020, I stood by the bell and rang it three times, no one from my support team around me. It was less triumphant than I thought, but boy did my mom make up for it when she picked me up. She rolled up to the cancer center with a balloon coming out of the sunroof of her car and a crown for me. Later in the night we celebrated with sangria and dinner at Turtle Jack’s with the whole family.
I can honestly say through this whole journey there were so many people who worked in so many ways to support me, from prayers, meals, to drives to places, and that’s what this journey has really taught me. When there is a crisis, you really learn what is important. You really learn to love what matters.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Taylor Hack. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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