‘You’re really lucky you came in today, because something is definitely wrong.’: Woman strives to overcome unexpected Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis

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“The day was Friday the 13th and it turned out to be the worst day of my entire life. I woke up around 9 a.m. due to my husband’s alarm going off for him to go to work. I had the day off and had planned to get some much-needed shopping done for our cruise we were going on the next week. The only problem was I STILL had this annoying, itchy, dry cough that wouldn’t go away and had been there for months. I had previously seen the doctor three times in the past 2 months, and the first time it was ‘allergies,’ the second ‘a stubborn cold’ and the third time was ‘acute bronchitis,’ all of which I was given antibiotics for, and none worked. My husband insisted I go to Urgent Care to at least get checked out before our trip to Mexico, that way I had a week if they put me on antibiotics and I would finish in time. I agreed to go, so I started to get ready.

Woman with hodgkin's lymphoma take selfie in car
Courtesy of Meagan Bechtold

I arrive at Urgent Care and I only see one other patient so I’m thinking this will be a quick trip, but boy was I wrong. I get called into the room where the nurse takes my vitals and I wait for the doctor. He once again checks my lungs and doesn’t understand what’s going on. Finally, he suggests that we take an X-Ray to maybe get a better view of what was happening inside my body to get answers. I change into a gown and the technician takes pictures of my chest and abdomen. As soon as we’re done, I can tell something isn’t right. He tells me to view the images on the screen and proceeds to tell me, ‘You’re really lucky you came in today because something is definitely wrong.’ I immediately feel as if I lost all color in my face. He tells me to change back into my regular clothes and head back to the room to see the doctor.

I go back into the room and the doctor has a very concerned look on his face. ‘I’m waiting for instructions on how to proceed,’ he said. Then he gets an email saying to send me to the ER immediately. I could tell at this point he and the technician are trying extremely hard not to send me into a panic, but I’ve already set myself in that mode. Why couldn’t anyone tell me what was going on? What was wrong with me? Why was my body betraying me like this? So many thoughts and concerns entered my mind, but in trying to avoid a panic attack, I stayed calm and focused on breathing. Then I called my husband.

Woman with hodgkin's lymphoma stands smiling on beach in arms of her husband
Courtesy of Meagan Bechtold

My husband was at work. He already knew something was wrong because I never call him at work. ‘I’m at Urgent Care and they want me to go to the hospital. They also don’t want me to drive there, and they want me to go now,’ I nervously explained. As I’m waiting for my husband to come get me, they hand me a stack of papers, the CD with my images, have me pay a co-pay, and all I can think is WHAT IS GOING ON? When my husband arrived, I walk outside and breakdown in tears. I can tell he is freaked out – completely freaked out, and not saying a word. We get into the car to start driving to the hospital and I immediately take out the forms they gave me and start googling the words. I cried the whole way to the hospital. We get out and I’ve finally got my crying under control, but I can’t say the same for my husband who just went to the bathroom while I checked in. I hand the girl at the front desk the papers and I’m called soon after. Up until this point in my 26-year-old life, I had 0 surgeries (not even wisdom teeth) and I had never had my blood drawn before, so this was a completely terrifying feeling for me.

My husband finally pulls himself together and my mother in law has met us at the hospital where I’ve been questioned, had my blood drawn, and I’m now sitting in a room waiting to get ANY kind of answers. It’s not long before I’m seen and taken to get a CT scan. About 30 minutes later a doctor and a nurse come in. ‘We think it’s cancer,’ they said. After that, I blacked out. That was obviously ‘worst’ case scenario, but I knew once I heard it, I felt deep in my core that was the answer. My husband and mother in law had so much hope that it was walking pneumonia, but after all the blood tests, scans, and how convinced the doctor was, I knew.

Close up of hospital bracelets on woman with hodgkin's lymphoma
Courtesy of Meagan Bechtold

Within 24 hours I had a lymph node biopsy, 3 CT scans, and a bone marrow biopsy. About a week later I was confirmed to having Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and I was scheduled to have a Porta Cath put in. Normally you do this out of the hospital and they can scan and stage you from a PET scan, but lucky me, I have to do everything different. I was not allowed to leave the hospital due to the state of my lungs and being hooked up to oxygen. The bone marrow biopsy concluded I was not Stage 4, and my other organs weren’t affected which is how they came to Stage 2. After my first round of chemo and 11 days at the hospital I finally got to go home, where the real battle began.

Woman with hodgkin's lymphoma purses lips in selfie as she stands in home
Courtesy of Meagan Bechtold

There are a few very traumatizing and memorable moments for me in this journey. The first was the fact that the hospital conducted my first chemo treatment, but did not give me the ‘booster’ shot that I would require to make my white blood cell count well enough to handle the next treatment, so when I went to receive my second treatment at the cancer center, my counts were way too low to receive treatment so I was sent home. One thing that kept me sane and positive during this experience was routine. Having a routine for everything can strongly help with anxiety about having to get treatments. I know it helped with mine. I was able to get my shots I needed for the next few days and then I received Round 2.

Round 2 is the most memorable by far. Round 2 is when the word cancer finally became ‘real.’ It was about 5 days after and my hair started shedding pretty badly. So badly, in fact, I had my husband cut off about 6 or 7 inches into a nice BOB. The BOB didn’t last much longer after it was created because I was finding chunks of hair everywhere. I would pull out massive amounts of hair and they would fall on the floor. Piles would accumulate on the floor and all over my pillow. I would stand in front of the mirror watching myself pulling it out, and I can honestly say I’ve never truly witnessed heartbreak and trauma like that. The moment where you finally ‘look’ like a cancer patient. A word of advice for anyone who goes through this – shave your head as soon as you see it falling out. Shaving my head was the most liberating, empowering, and freeing moment I’ve ever experienced, and was nothing compared to the trauma of watching my hair clump together in huge pieces and then fall out. Hair loss was for me the hardest part, but it was also what I believe has made me the strongest.

Woman with hodgkin's lymphoma and shaved head smiles in selfie
Courtesy of Meagan Bechtold

Half way through my treatment my husband got a phone call that a spot opened up for him to go to Barber School. We knew this would be the only time he could do it and I knew my life was about to get way harder, but I wanted him to achieve his goal and be happy. My mom started taking me to all my chemo appointments, and during the day I was forced to take care of and entertain myself. Cooking was the hardest part for me because I love to cook, but when you constantly feel like puking and have no energy, it’s the last thing you’ll want to do. The best thing I ever did was when people asked how they could help, I always suggested food. I also had a great support system and my stepmom cooked us dinner every single chemo eve, and I had leftovers for the horrible chemo coma. I could not have asked for better support from my friends and family.

Husband sits on bench beside wife with hodgkin's lymphoma who is hooked up to oxygen tank
Courtesy of Meagan Bechtold

I do have my days where I feel extremely down, and those days are completely okay. My husband tells me every day, ‘You are strong, badass, and beautiful.’ He also tells me he’s proud of me and there’s no better feeling than the ones you love being proud of you. I want to spread awareness, but also inspire and be a support system for those in need, which is why I started my blog ‘The Bechtold Battle’ and why I am creating an online boutique called ‘Ribbons Of Tenacity’ where I will have humorous, and empowering shirts for survivors/supporters of all causes. I hope to inspire those and encourage people to be the light at the end of the tunnel for someone. I am now completely done with 12 rounds of chemo, and in 3 weeks I’ll know if I’m in remission. Yes, I had cancer, but cancer never had me.”

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Woman with hodgkin's lymphoma stands on shore of beach holding her blonde wig in air
Courtesy of Meagan Bechtold

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Meagan Bechtold of Las Vegas, Nevada. You can follow her journey on her blog and InstagramDo you have a similar experience? We’d love to hear your journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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