I had just completed my first semester of college and was proud of earning a 3.8 GPA. I’d never had any serious illness, flu, pneumonia, never broke a bone and was always physically active on my bike or playing sports with my family.
I noticed a lump in my neck and went to the emergency room. The doctor diagnosed it as a cyst and prescribed antibiotics. My team at the ER recommended I follow up with a surgeon. I ignored that follow-up request – the lump went away when I took the antibiotics so I thought I was fine.
I then began to notice more painless lumps in my neck. However I was enjoying my summer, focused on my great restaurant job, and school was about to start. I was not experiencing any other symptoms, so I figured I was still all good. I decided to wait until the semester finished and the holidays were out of the way before getting my health changes checked out.
A few days before Christmas, I woke up with a huge lump the size of a golf ball under my arm, plus a stomach virus. I was puzzled about these health changes, but each time the symptoms went away. I figured I was fine.
I started waking up hot and sweaty. I developed fevers and chills as well. My legs would start itching nonstop. Now I realize that these symptoms were signs from my body that it was trying to fight a bigger issue – cancer.
I put my health off to the side for nearly a year, but finally couldn’t ignore all these symptoms and scheduled an appointment with a doctor. I was referred to a surgical pathologist, who did an excisional lymph node biopsy.
I will never forget when he said, “This is really serious.” That’s when it started to hit me that I had been ignoring a lot of symptoms. The next step in diagnosis was a PET scan, which confirmed that I had stage 3 Hodgkin lymphoma.
I was just in denial the whole year leading up to my diagnosis. I thought my health issues would just go away on their own, and assumed they were minor and unrelated. When I got diagnosed with cancer, I was angry, embarrassed, and felt like I was no longer “normal” like everyone else. I got through chemotherapy by thinking positive, picturing the light at the end of the tunnel and knowing everyone was rooting for me.
I learned that it’s important to take those first subtle symptoms seriously. Don’t wait more than 2 weeks to get health changes checked out even if they seem like no big deal. I am more thankful than ever that my disease was still considered treatable despite how long I waited.
- lumps on neck
- unexplained itchiness