Lymphoma Survivor

Working through emotions will help you heal

During his battle with lymphoma, Corey Schlaitzer read everything he could find to prepare himself for the disease and the treatments he was up against. He also gratefully accepted help from friends and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS), where he found tremendous support when he needed it the most. Although he’s been in remission for over two years, some of the side effects still linger, especially the emotional ones, which is why he advises others to start healing by dealing with your feelings.

 

A nagging cough prompted me to see the doctor who after looking at my chest X-ray said, “I hope it’s just pneumonia”. Despite sharing the same hope, I was unfortunately diagnosed with Stage I lymphoma at the age of 34.

They found a fist-sized tumor next to my heart, so after invasive surgery, I began aggressive treatment and was lucky to be declared cancer-free five months after diagnosis.

The doctors and I agreed to hit the cancer hard rather than taking it slow, but I really don’t feel like I was properly prepared for the physical and emotional pain that still lingers today.

For two months I received a chemotherapy combination of ABVD (Adriamycin, Bleomycin, Vinblastine and Dacarbazine) every other week, which was pretty hard to handle.

The pain in my bones and joints was like nothing I'd ever experienced before. It hurt to sit, stand and even lie down, so I would just curl up on the floor on a blanket and cry because I was in so much pain.

I also lost my hair, my immune system was shot and I was constantly exhausted. I had mouth sores that even made drinking water a painful experience, but believe it or not, I eventually got used to feeling sick and tired. After a month of daily radiation therapy Monday through Friday, treatment was officially over.

I found the emotional aspects of this disease completely draining, and they continue to resurface from time to time. I buried a lot of my feelings because I felt like I needed to be strong at the time, so I’m pretty sure that’s why I’m dealing with a lot of them now.

Whenever I was asked how I was doing, I almost always said “fine,” no matter how bad I felt because I didn’t want to burden anyone with my true feelings. Don’t let this happen to you – it’s OK to have bad days and to let others know how you really feel.

My amazing friends and coworkers did their very best to keep my spirits up, and were there for me on the rare occasions where I would cry and say, "this really sucks” or “I don't want to do this anymore."

I struggled with the idea that I should be brave and stay positive but I needed to allow myself moments to be sad and angry and terrified — because all of those feelings were there all along. It helps to keep it real, or these emotions will creep up on you later in life.

Fear is an unavoidable emotion for all cancer patients, but the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) personally set me up with a cancer survivor who called me directly to offer support. The group also offers information about treatment options, side effects and financial assistance, as well as connecting cancer patients with survivors from around the country. Even though it’s a large organization, LLS is great at connecting with each individual and helping them with their specific needs. I appreciated this so very much.

I continue to struggle with chemo brain, joint pain, and while I was a picky eater before, my digestive system will never be the same because my stomach is so sensitive. I found that guided imagery and meditation helped me the most, and I continue to practice them today to help me get through the bumps in the road.

Some very important people in my life provided me with amazing support and managed to keep my spirits up whenever they could. I’m eternally grateful for everyone who was there for me during this difficult time.

I know how lucky I was and continue to be for having such thoughtful co-workers and helpful friends surrounding me, and can only hope that other patients seek out and find the same kind of support.

 

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