‘7 months pregnant, I noticed a bump on my leg. I thought it was just me being ‘fat.’ I could kick myself now.’: Mom diagnosed with Stage 4 Sarcoma, claims ‘cancer has been my greatest blessing’

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“Honestly this story began when I was 8 years old and there was a small lump on my cheek that with time just got bigger. The doctors at that time (1990s) concluded it was just a small fatty tumor. But once it was removed something bigger came into play. My body had developed a bacterium that caused breakouts of cystic acne, cysts, boils and small lipomas (benign tumors). Starting at the age of 8 these ‘breakouts’ just became part of my life.

I can remember so vividly the first time I was really bullied and when the awful nicknames started. I remember the first time I heard ‘untouchable.’ It was over by the swing sets at my Elementary school and I was wearing a badge that said, ‘I’m 9 today!’ My sweet mom made it for my birthday. That’s when I was pushed down, my badge was taken away and I heard it… I heard, ‘Don’t touch her! Look at her face and arms… She’s untouchable!’

Little girl smiling for school picture with red bump on her cheek
Courtesy of Goldie Merrell

It was at that time that I started to believe the nicknames. The first time I found my worth, which was nothing, I remember my sweet, innocent 9-year-old mind thinking, ‘What good am I anyways?’ I had a very close family member who was dealing with some very debilitating anxiety at that time and she still does. So much anxiety that she couldn’t leave the house. There were times where she couldn’t come out of her bedroom. In my extended family there was suicide, drug overdoses, illnesses that resulted in deaths and all of that spilled into my personal family’s life. All the trauma and utter chaos was there for years.

Fast forward to middle school… I had long, blonde knotted hair, my appearance hadn’t changed much since elementary school. The only exception is that my breakouts were happening on my face, arms, back and chest now. There were times where I still heard ‘untouchable,’ but now I was hearing more nicknames like ‘dog face, boiler maker, pizza face, straw head.’

But then there was one day, one day where I thought maybe this bullying was coming to an end. The popular girls came up to me while I was eating lunch (I ate in the hallway and never the cafeteria). They asked if I wanted to play some volleyball with them. So eager and happy that this day had finally come I gladly accepted and went to the gym with them. We were chatting and laughing like we were old friends! They were so excited to have me there!

They told me to sit in the middle and they would ‘tag’ me in after a minute or two. So, beaming from eye to eye I waited my turn… Then I felt the volleyball hit my head. ‘Oh, accident! That was totally an accident,’ but then I felt the volleyball hit me a second, third, fourth, fifth time. That is when I realized that this wasn’t friendly game. I remember looking up and seeing their faces… Laughing so hard and pointing at me.

My long hair was a mess. Trying to hold back the tears I ran out of the gym and they roared with laughter. I was mortified, I could hear their laughter echoing in the hallway as I went and hid in the bathroom until the tears stopped pouring out.

Teen girl with acne smilies while sitting on ground of home smiling
Courtesy of Goldie Merrell

There came a point between middle school and high school where I developed an over eating habit because let’s face it, FOOD WAS NEVER MEAN TO ME. I loved food and it loved me right back. When puberty hit me, it wasn’t a pretty transition. I was addicted to sugar, junk food, carbs, pop and everything a person who deals with cystic acne, cysts and boils should not eat.

So, let’s fast forward again to high school. My long blonde hair was short and I made sure of that. My addiction to sugar and food had only grown and I gained quite a bit of weight. I binged any time I was alone in my car, bathroom, bedroom.

My birthday is in the Spring and I finally turned 16 which is the age my parents let us go to dances. I saw some friends in my neighborhood get asked to the Spring Fling dance and there was just something so magical that happened to the girls when they went to dances. It seemed like they were accepted! Something that I had longed SO much for. I saw the fun ways boys asked girls to dances; I would hear about their bedrooms getting decorated, cars full of balloons and confetti with a cheesy poem attached to it.

So everyday for 2 weeks before the dance I kept my room and car clean because, just maybe, if I was asked, how embarrassing would it be if it were messy. But the day before the dance came and my room was left untouched. I went out to my car to see if I missed something. Nothing, there was nothing. And every dance ended up that way for the rest of high school. I didn’t even go on one date.

Everyone thinks the hair, dress and makeup are the big deal, and maybe that is for some people, but for me, it was the fact that someone wanted to be with me. That they saw me in their head and said, ‘I want to be with her.’ So again, I found my worth just like that empty room that had nothing in it… I was reminded of what I was, nothing.

The last week of my senior year I was done. I was so done with school and with my peers. I was done with name calling, the rejections, the laughing, people making fun of me for how much makeup I wore. Teasing me for the blood stains on the back of my shirt because my backpack would rub my cysts and boils and make them drain. I was done with the after-school programs for my learning disability.

People ask me if I ever contemplated suicide during high school because of all the bullying and my answer is no. Yes, grade school was awful and it was hard to see beyond that, but my uncle committed suicide and I saw firsthand how it ripped my family apart. One thing I knew for certain is that suicide was a very permanent solution to a temporary problem.

The last day of my senior year I remember hearing my name and I was caught off guard because it was the voice of one the coolest boys in my grade. The group of boys he was in were some of the most handsome, coolest, most popular boys of high school.

One by one, they came up to me and gave me a hug. By the time the last one got to me he handed me a paper bag and said, ‘Man, you smell awful,’ and they all walked away high fiving each other and laughing. When I looked in the paper bag my heart dropped when I saw coupons for soap and shampoo. The medicine I was on at the time for my cysts and boils made my hair so oily… It hurt to shower and our bath tub didn’t work, so I’m sure I smelled awful.

When I went to college I was so excited because it was a new change of pace where people didn’t know anything about me or my past. I loved it and honestly my college years were some of the best years of my life. I met my sweet husband during college (who was my first and only kiss, first and only boyfriend). People were good to me. Yes, I still had breakouts and nobody cared!

Let’s fast forward a bit… I had some great years being first married, 2 adorable boys, lots of career changes, moving to different states, enduring the typical adult challenges (still breaking out but if I keep off sugar I’m golden). We’ll stop at when I was 7 months pregnant with my beautiful daughter. I noticed a bump on my left leg, high up on my thigh. I gained quite a bit of weight with my third and honestly, I thought this bump was because I was fat (I topped out at 235 pounds when I had her). I still kick myself for not saying anything to the doctor about it but I thought it would go away on its own.

Large bump on woman's thigh
Courtesy of Goldie Merrell

In September of 2017 my leg would start randomly spazzing out. Sometimes it would be so painful and so intense I couldn’t walk. I noticed that veins were starting to pop out on my left thigh and it was at that point I realized that it wasn’t going away, but it was getting bigger. Now I knew there might be a problem but I dragged my feet because I didn’t have health insurance.

In January of this year I made the appointment to see a general surgeon to get the lump removed. It had at least tripled in size by now. When the surgeon saw it he said, ‘We’ll get it removed but I have a feeling it might be cancerous.’ When I heard him say that I thought, ‘No, that could never happen to me.’ So, we proceeded with the surgery and in March I had it removed. Recovering those two weeks I was in heaven because the big lump was gone! I thought I could focus on finally losing some baby weight and getting healthy.

When I went to get the staples out the surgeon did it… Not the nurse, and it was then that I realized something might be wrong because removing staples was a nurse’s job. When he said, ‘I’m sorry, but the tumor we removed was Stage 4 Sarcoma cancer,’ I didn’t hear anything after that. Just like in the movies, my ears rang – I was fighting the tears and trying desperately to concentrate on what else he was saying, but all I saw was his mouth moving, not hearing anything but my heart beat rushing through my ears.

I honestly don’t remember leaving his office or going out to my car. But I do remember the moment I let out the biggest cry and that’s when reality hit me of having cancer. The tears and sounds I made while crying that day were uncontrollable and totally involuntary. It just came out. I thought of my husband and then I saw my kids’ faces and how this was going to affect their lives because they’re still little! 9, 6 and 2… I’m still little! I’m 32! I’m part of the 1% of adults who suffer from this rare cancer and I’m 32?! I was mad, like dropping the F-bomb about 100 times in an hour mad. Like swearing while I saying prayers mad. I was SO angry with God.

Woman with cancer leans on walker beside hospital bed
Courtesy of Goldie Merrell

The first week after the diagnosis I grieved for my recently past life because now mine and my family’s reality has changed dramatically. Instead of making plans for camping, celebrating our 10-year anniversary on a cruise, going on some fun road trips with my family this summer… I was making plans for surgeries at cancer hospitals. I was making plans for radiation therapy. I was sitting at my desk praying desperately to know how finances were going to work because yes, I was still uninsured (and currently) doing ALL OF THIS. I was mad, bitter and so frustrated and seeing no way out of it. I wanted to lose all the weight I’d gained and get to focusing on my health and fitness, and NOW I HAVE EFFING CANCER?!

Large scar on woman thigh from where cancer was cut out
Courtesy of Goldie Merrell

While as of this moment I am still fighting cancer and have to have yet another surgery at the end of this month, and radiation starts around the holidays, and having ‘scanxeity’ every 3 months for my CT and MRI – knowing that in the past 5 months my cancer has spread and just how scary that is for the rest of my body…

I remembered something I heard from a motivational talk years ago. He said, ‘You can shake your hands up at the sky in anger, or you can look at is as, ‘What is the opportunity that this is?’ It was at that point I thought to myself, ‘Gold, you can be bitter about this and stay bitter, OR you can look at it as your greatest blessing and look for the good.’ And that is when I decided that cancer has saved me. That cancer is my greatest blessing. That the reason why I have something as big as cancer is because I am meant for something HUGE! If cancer is my foundation for that avenue of whatever the blessings are that are coming, then it’s worth that sacrifice to go through this past year. I know in my bones I will pray and say, ‘Thank you God for giving me cancer. For loving me enough to give me something that big to make me realize my potential and what I have to offer.’

Side by side of woman wearing pants that don't fit her beside her wearing them perfectly
Courtesy of Goldie Merrell

Being bullied and going through all that pain has made me realize that I am not nothing. I am someone quite extraordinary and beautiful. Going through my childhood and having those trials was the foundation for this part of my life and getting me closer to God, and the power that lies within me to help others feel the same.”

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Woman who beat cancer stands holding daughter beside husband and two sons
Courtesy of Goldie Merrell

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Goldie Merrell, 32, of Boise, Idaho. You can follow her on her YouTube page. Have you endured hardships and come out stronger on the other side? We’d love to hear your journey. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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