As a competitive figure skater, I got a lot of bumps and bruises. It was normal for me to wake up with body aches and knots after a practice session, so when I felt a couple of knots in my neck I didn’t think much about it. However, the knots began to grow and my parents started to get worried- especially since I had no other changes in my health. I went to my doctor and got put on antibiotics, but there was still no change. My doctor then referred me to an oncologist, who gave me a biopsy and CAT scan. It confirmed all of our fears- I had stage four Hodgkin’s disease (a form of lymphoma).
I couldn’t believe it- I thought I was too young to have cancer. I had just celebrated my 16th birthday and was going into my senior year in high school. I spent my last year in high school receiving chemotherapy, which gave me really bad stomach pain and I lost all of my hair. I was lucky- I had a strong support system and a little brother to play with to keep my mind off of things. Music, books and entertainment also helped. Thankfully by the following February, I was in remission and declared clear of the cancer. In May of that year I was able to walk across the stage and receive my high school diploma-something that I didn’t think I’d be able to do.
For the next couple of years, I was busy getting my undergraduate degree at the University of Kansas getting my life back together after experiencing such a tough battle. But halfway through my sophomore year I felt a small swollen gland in my neck. I knew from experience what it was instantly, but I was too stubborn and scared to say anything to my parents. A few months went by and the gland continued to grow at a fast rate. Finally, I broke down and told my parents.
One thing led to another, and once again I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, except this time it was only stage one. My oncologist told me that I had a 60% chance of being cured. Even though it hadn’t spread as much as the first time, my doctors still recommended an autologus stem cell transplant. I was diagnosed in May of 2000 and by August 2000 I was cancer free. I have been in remission since then. My family and friends were the backbone through it all, and I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t have such an incredible team of oncologist and nurses.
My message to teenagers who think they can get away with anything: make a grown-up decision and get yourself checked out. Waiting didn’t change my diagnosis- it just prolonged getting the treatment that I needed. You’ll be able to make your dreams come true much faster with a clean bill of health.
- multiple large knots growing in neck