This is My Story…
I never could have imagined that itchy skin and scabs would lead to cancer. For a month, I visited Mercy Hospital several times for itchy rashes. The rashes were painful and kept me from sleeping at night. Mercy said it could be scabies or bed bugs and suggested I take Benedryl. No blood work was processed and the mention of my swollen glands on my neck was ignored. My last visit the ER doctor recommended that I see a dermatologist. I was told I had no other options and there was nothing else they could do for me. When the doctor asked, “What else I wanted her to do,” my only response was for her to help me with tears in my eyes. Nothing was working. The scars and itching were getting worse. I did not receive the proper medical attention because I did not have medical insurance. The Emergency Room was the only way I could get help.
On November 26th 2012, I visited Doctor’s hospital in Coral Gables, Fl. I had neck pain from the swollen lymph nodes. Doctor’s Hospital immediately began running tests. I had x-rays, blood work, and cat scans. They could not diagnose me until I was admitted into the hospital. I was scared and cancer was the last thing on my mind. All I knew was I was getting help and I would soon know what was wrong. A tall, gentle, long-haired doctor by the name of Dr. Frances Valdes-Albini, woke me up to give me the results of my tests. She said Lymphoma. It was Chinese; I didn’t understand what that meant. My thoughts raced when the words cancer and chemotherapy came out of her mouth. Then she proceeded to explain that it was cancer, a blood cancer. I was thinking: My hair. I had long, long red curly hair. I have always wanted to have children and be a mother. Would I be able to have children after this? More testing continued and a Biopsy confirmed I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma. A Bone Marrow biopsy was taken to make sure the cancer had not reached my bone marrow. The test came out negative. My official diagnosis was Stage IIB Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. A port was surgically put in my chest for chemotherapy. At that moment I decided no more crying, let’s do what we have to do. I have cancer and let’s get started.
The next day friends visited and – with the help of technology – I was able to face time and chat with more friends. Conversations were funny and lighthearted. Everyone was showing support. Later that night, all the visitors were gone except my sisters best friend and there was a moment of random silence. I looked up and broke down crying. The only words that could come out of my mouth were, “I have cancer.” She climbed in the hospital chair with me and ate snacks from a care package sent by a close friend we cried and laughed all within minutes. The time came when I had to tell my older sister, in NYC about my diagnosis. Once she knew she was scheduled to fly in to Miami the next day. My childhood best friend, Stephanie spent the night with me. My bed broke, water spilled all over my bed, wires broke and set off alarm for hours. It was crazy. My first chemo was scheduled for the morning. I couldn’t sleep. My sister’s best friend, Priscilla, who became my best friend, came for my first chemo treatment. When morning came and a nurse came in and started prepping me for my first round of chemo. My mom and best friend were sitting in the room. She asked me if I was ready and said yes with tears in my eyes. The nurse didn’t react to my emotions. I was scared. I thought chemo was going to hurt as it went into my body but it didn’t. She explained each medication as it was given. I even slept I was able to walk around do things I didn’t think I was going to be able to do during chemo. Six rounds, 12 treatments were scheduled every other Monday. My best friend Priscilla and my boyfriend Tony came to every treatment. We would play cards or watch movies on an iPad. As the ABVD chemotherapy treatments proceeded, they got harder and I was put to sleep for my treatments.
I finished chemo May 14th, 2013. A follow-up PET scan a few weeks later showed I still had residual evidence in my chest. I had surgery to remove my thymus and get a biopsy. Results came back and I had large B cell lymphoma stage IIB. I had 2 cancers at once. Rare, but possible.
I took the news pretty well when my oncologist said I needed more chemo. I was okay with it; as long as I wasn’t dying, I was okay! I trusted my doctor. I did it once I can do it again. My mother broke down for the first time crying. She couldn’t believe it… My oncologist wanted me to see a doctor by the name of Dr. Lossos. He was as so-called “guru” for Lymphoma. He took over my treatment in August 2013 and there I was 9 weeks into my treatment, 30 lbs. over-weight, taking medications, and taking life day-by-day. I was happier than I had ever been. I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything. No matter how hard it was. The person I am today is not the person I was when I was diagnosed in 2012.
I thank God for giving me this opportunity and changing my life. I have had the most amazing support system. My best friend Priscilla was there for every single chemo along with my boyfriend Tony. My father cooked me a meal, or should I say every meal, and has been there every time I needed him. My mother has been there for every doctor’s appointment; her tough love, hugs and wiping my tears away gave me comfort. My sister Monica sends encouraging texts and calls from NYC; her surprise trips to Miami were so exciting. Vanessa, my oldest sister would shower me with me love and kisses. Ultimately, I would like to say thank you to my entire family, all of my friends, and acquaintances. Also a special thank you to all my Doctors and Nurses over at the University of Miami and Doctors Hospital.
Everyone has been so positive and supportive. So many people have reached out to me and have made me feel so strong. I thank you all for your love and support. I know I wouldn’t have been able to go through this journey without your love and support. I thought I would never see the light at the end of the tunnel but here I am nearly two years after being diagnosed and back to my day-to-day life! Cancer free! Working closely with the leukemia and lymphoma society to raise awareness and funds for research by sharing my story and inspiring others because together we can wipe blood cancer away! I am proud to say I am a cancer survivor!