Lymphoma Survivor

A lot of courage overcomes a ‘little bit of cancer’

Weeks after giving birth to her second child, 25-year-old Sarah St. Clair was told that she had “a little bit of cancer.” Overwhelmed and confused, the young mother relied on family and friends whose unwavering support helped her face her fears and remain strong for her two young boys. As an 18-year survivor of Stage IIB Hodgkin lymphoma, Sarah’s advice to other patients is to surround yourself with caring and loving people who can make you laugh and lighten the load as you face this dreaded disease.

 

I had my hands full with a 9-week-old baby and a first-grader when I first noticed a lump on my neck. My doctor removed it from my thyroid, and although the biopsy came back negative, a week later I was back with a fever, a rash and at least three new tumors growing back in the same spot and the surrounding areas of my neck.

“You have a little bit of Hodgkin’s,” my doctor finally said.

I asked if that was like being a little bit pregnant, but he just kept dancing around the issue, bless his heart. Unsure about what Hodgkin’s even was, I asked him point blank, “Do I have cancer?”

I needed a straightforward answer, and all he could do was say that Hodgkin’s was very treatable and everything was going to be OK.

I left his office and drove straight to the public library, where I made copies of the information I found so that I could do a better job explaining the disease to my family.

After more research and a second opinion, I was officially diagnosed with Stage IIB Hodgkin lymphoma. Realizing that cancer was in my lymph system was extremely scary because I had always thought that was the worst-case scenario.

My aunt died of ovarian cancer at the age of 34, and I specifically remember my mom telling me that it had spread to her lymph nodes, which was never good. But cancer was a death sentence back then; you almost had to whisper the word “cancer” because people were so uncomfortable talking about it.

The first few weeks after my diagnosis were utter hell because I was hungry for information, and smartphones and the Internet weren’t around yet. I would lie awake and wonder what would happen if I didn’t wake up … it was all so surreal.

Thankfully, my husband was amazing and kept me grounded, and the rest of my family tried their best to cheer me up.

I was always going in for treatment or blood work, but thankfully I had support from countless family members offering to give me a ride, watch the kids or just to offer encouragement.

For six months I went in for chemo injections (the ABVD cocktail) every two weeks that would take about eight hours to administer. I had stopped nursing my baby, but I was thankful that doctors didn’t install a port in my chest so that I could still hold and snuggle my boys throughout treatment. They helped me focus.

I was lucky when it came to side effects. Other than losing my hair, the bone marrow test was the worst part of treatment. My white blood cell counts began falling during the second half of my treatment, so I had to administer daily shots of filgrastim (Neupogen) to boost my white blood cell count. The side effects of that were actually harder than the chemotherapy itself. For months I experienced the sensation of shock waves pulsing deep down in my bones. It was an unbearable ache that I’ll never forget.

So much of a woman’s identity is in her hair, and I felt ashamed when mine started to fall out. I remember bursting into tears while looking at wigs with my parents because of how fake they looked. Thankfully, I found a ministry that provided human hair wigs that are dyed and styled to match each patient’s original hair.

For the first time I thought, “OK, this will work.” And it did.

Everything surrounding cancer treatment has significantly improved since I was diagnosed nearly two decades ago. There is a plethora of information at your fingertips and millions of cancer survivors ready and willing to share their stories and give you advice. Take advantage of their experiences and have faith that no matter what, you are in the middle of writing your own survivor story.

 

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