It’s strange to finally be blogging again (after almost two years) when I have such unexpected, shitty news. But here I am, here we are, and here we go:
I was recently diagnosed with stage four lymphoma. I’d been really sick since March, constantly throwing up, feeling nauseas, and missing work. I underwent all kinds of gastroenterological tests but they all turned out fine, and no one knew what was wrong with me. Eventually, we found that I had gallstones and I saw a surgeon who planned to remove my gallbladder. But even then, she couldn’t explain why I was so sick and said the surgery may or may not make my problems go away. She ordered a CT scan to check the positioning of my gallbladder before she removed it, and found that there were quite a few enlarged lymph nodes throughout my body. She ordered a PET scan and they lit up as cancerous. Some of the cancer has moved to the bone in my right hip, which is why it’s classified as stage four.
It’s so strange, but the night before I got the news, I couldn’t sleep. I was just so sure it was cancer. The next morning, I answered the phone while on a break at work, heard the doctor’s voice as she said my name, and I just knew. You know those moments when you just go into autopilot? Your mouth moves but you barely register what you’re saying? She talked to me about next steps and I remember I asked a few questions, but I’ll be damned if I can remember a single word either of us said.
This crazy part of me just thought, “I just need to take another 15 minutes before I go back to work with my clients,” as if I didn’t need more time to process this awful news, so I walked into my boss’s office, opened my mouth, and nothing came out. Finally, I said, “I got a call from the doctor, and…” I put my hand over my mouth and managed to whisper, “I have lymphoma,” before starting to cry. It was hard enough hearing the news, but telling someone else was a thousand times harder. She immediately told me to go home, and I practically ran to my car to call my parents. They answered their home phone together, but again, I just couldn’t get the words out.
There’s something so heartbreaking about telling the people you love that you’re very, very sick. I managed to squeak out, through ragged breathing and tears, that I had cancer. And then what, I was supposed to drive myself home? I don’t know how I collected myself, but it’s a miracle that I did, because I just wanted to cry on my couch. The next few days were a blur of me informing everyone I care for about my situation. Most people had wonderful reactions (supportive but mostly quiet, letting me take my time and asking a few questions in a calm manner), but I could feel the fear in the reactions of others. That’s something they don’t tell you about: the emotional labor of telling people that you have cancer, resulting in you comforting others because they’re worried, scared, shocked…you name it. It’s exhausting even telling people who react calmly. And hearing people I love stifle tears through the phone is absolutely heartbreaking.
People always have advice. They have friends that have been through it, or friends of friends, or they’ve heard that lymphoma is one of the most curable cancers. Sometimes I don’t mind people telling me that, and sometimes it fills me with so much anger and frustration that I want to yell at them. I’m glad your friend’s okay. I’m still scared. I’m glad I don’t have pancreatic cancer, but I still have cancer, and I get to feel bad for myself.
The other thing they don’t tell you is that everyone’s advice is to stay positive. Today, a girl overheard me telling someone that I’d be going through chemotherapy soon and said, “You’re gonna be okay. I had thyroid cancer and I’ve been in remission for five years.” I appreciated that she wanted to comfort me, a complete stranger, but I almost screamed when she said, “You just have to have a good attitude.” Then she hugged me. I didn’t like it.
I get it. God, I get it! I understand that mental health is tied to physical health, so it would follow that a positive attitude might benefit me physically. But that also invalidates my feelings of fear, anger, and sadness, making me feel like I have to fake it with everyone I know. I lied and told that girl that I’ve been staying positive. In reality, I’m terrified.
This is not to say that there haven’t been moments of positivity. As much as I’ve cried, I’ve tried to laugh. I don’t really know how to go about life without joking about things, and this hasn’t been an exception. An example: I was watching a movie trailer with a friend, and it looked like I’d like the movie. Upon finding out that it doesn’t come out until this winter, I yelled, “I don’t have that much time!” My friend seemed a little horrified as I realized that I’d accidentally said my illness was terminal, but after a second we both started laughing so hard that I couldn’t speak. Another example: I was diagnosed on June 21, which was the day of the solstice and the beginning of cancer (the astrological sign) season. My partner, not thinking, casually mentioned that to me the next day: “Hey, it’s cancer season!” Again, uproarious laughter. It helps. It really does. Maybe that’s my positive attitude right there.
I’ve also been joking that I’ll make millions off my memoir when all this is over. A girl can dream, right?
But still, I’m writing this post through tears. The letters are all squiggly, and I have to continually pause to collect myself. I feel like shit. I have a fever of 100° and feel like my head is floating away from my body (don’t worry, I just took some Tylenol). In truth, I wouldn’t mind floating away if it meant I could forget this situation for a while. If it meant I could escape cancer for just a few hours. But I can’t. I have to be an adult and face this head-on, even though all I want to do is curl up in bed and never leave. No one can be prepared for this and I sure as hell wasn’t. I’m 26, and this just isn’t fair. But, fingers crossed, maybe this will be the last time I’m sick for the rest of my life. Again, a girl can dream.