Leukemia Survivor

College student chronicles cancer fight on blog

Caroline Bridges graduated from Boston University. During her sophomore year in 2006, she began bruising badly and was continually exhausted. She was stunned when she was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia the week prior to final exams. Her family immediately moved her back home to a suburb of Chicago, where she enrolled in a clinical trial. Fortunately, Caroline’s treatment quickly put her into remission.

 

Battling loneliness and sickness from her treatment, Caroline began a blog that recorded her journey and allowed her to communicate with her friends and family (carolineb-log.blogspot.com). After she returned to school, she continued to work part-time, take photos and volunteer for several cancer organizations.

College student, young adult, cancer survivor, female, motivational speaker, musician, photographer...pick your poison or pleasure. I like to think that no person is truly one-dimensional. We all have different sides, multiple stories and uncommon experiences. Yes, I am a cancer survivor, but I am so many other things as well. We all are. Every one of us who is fighting something, it doesn’t matter what, cannot be typecast by that one fight. In the beginning, everything happened so quickly. I was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), and then in less than one week, I was admitted to a hospital in Chicago to begin treatment. I was freaking out about tests and finals. When the doctor first told me I had cancer, I didn’t think, “Oh my God, I’ve got cancer. Now what do I do?” I thought, “Oh my God, I have to leave my life, my friends, my school. I have to go live at home again. Now what do I do?”

I came home from Boston on a Tuesday and was admitted as an inpatient on Thursday for three weeks of treatment. In the hospital I was going stir crazy. I got a huge reading list and read and played my guitar, but all my friends were in school. Initially, the blog helped because there were so many people that I wanted to tell about what was going on with me, and I’m terrible with e-mail.

As I continued with treatment and to blog, I found out that more and more people were reading it and enjoying it. Writing became a cathartic release for me. It helped to write what I was going through, what I was feeling and all the frustrations. I wasn’t keeping all my fears and questions inside. I could think through what was going on — to compartmentalize some things and rationalize others.

The chemotherapy for my clinical trial was set up in modules. I had a different module roughly each month for three months, and an experimental drug during the fourth. Then, the first three modules were repeated. My chemo drugs included methotrexate, vincristine, daunorubicin, alemtuzumab and cyclophosphamide. From the beginning, the doctors told me that the ALL was completely treatable, and they reinforced this continually. My body responded so well that after the first month of treatment, I was technically in remission.

My treatment months in Chicago — January through August — were a lonely time for me, and also were hard for my parents as they watched me go through this. I was in and out of the hospital with fevers and infections due to low blood cell counts and lack of platelets. I threw up from the chemotherapy, lost my hair and lost weight. I had my blood drawn constantly, blood transfusions, bone-marrow biopsies, and lumbar punctures (spinal taps). I like to think, however, that I spent very little time feeling sorry for myself. It was hard, but I knew from the beginning that I had to get through this.

I was thrilled to move back to Boston in August 2007 — on schedule. My doctor in Chicago arranged for me to complete my chemotherapy in Boston. I went from pretty much not doing anything at all, aside from going to clinics and hospitals, to having to take a deep breath and dive back into the crazy, active world of college. My life began to be awesome and busy and a total happy mess when I moved back. I still had to have the final chemotherapy treatment, but the preliminary lab results in Boston showed absolutely no sign of any leukemia cells anywhere in my marrow. Hooray!

Along the way, I revised my purpose in blogging. It was no longer only to share what it’s like to be 20 and living with cancer. I didn’t want to have gone through so much and then just relegate cancer to a distant past. While there are no more leukemic cells hanging out in my marrow, cancer will always be a part of me. I want to write about what it’s like to be a vocal survivor as I share my experiences with different groups of people.

I want to be able to make a difference, whether by helping increase empathy for future doctors or by helping another 20-year-old girl just diagnosed with cancer get through the hard parts. I don’t want my 15 minutes of cancer-fame; I want to try and do something lasting. I know that now it is up to me to take this ball and run with it.

 

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