By Joetta Dalton My cancer story began several months before my actual diagnosis. The conditions inside my body became,“just right” and created a cancer-friendly environment. However, it was quite some time before I would discover what my body was growing inside of me.
My cancer diagnosis would prove to be a long and interesting process, to say the least. I had been experiencing some mild pain and discomfort in my lower back for quite a while. Eventually the pain spread to my hip, sciatic nerve, and leg as well. Over time, the pain became quite unbearable, and I was unable to find any relief from my ailments. I was stubborn and hoped that it would magically get better on its own. For a few weeks, I trudged painfully along with worsening symptoms until I finally reached my breaking point. I could no longer properly operate my left leg due to excruciating pain which was radiating with every movement; taking steps and bending were especially painful movements for me during this time. Approximately halfway through a terribly painful night at work, I realized something had to be done. I could no longer go on in the state that I was in. At the end of our shifts, my coworker gave me a ride to the emergency room (I was unable to drive myself at this point), and the, “hurry up and wait” period of my journey would soon begin. After a very long wait and changing emergency rooms, my cancer journey began. After being admitted, the doctor asked me a series of questions and performed a quick examination. The emergency room doctor recommended that I get an MRI, so we could get a closer look at what was going on inside of me. I was taken back to my tiny space in the emergency room to await the results after what seemed like an eternity in the MRI tube. When the doctor returned with my test results, he had an impending look of doom upon his face as if he was about to bestow upon me some terrible news; as it turned out, he was indeed the bearer of some potentially terrible findings.
Interference or a block in the nervous system causes the body to be in pain. My horrendous back pain and inability to walk properly was being caused by a large mass which was growing in my lower back region; right about where the sciatic nerves branch off of the spine and travel down the legs. My body could not function normally, because there was quite literally an abnormal group of cells fighting for survival. Anytime the body is fighting a disease, a range of symptoms results. In my case, the cancerous mass interfering with my nervous system caused me severe pain. The MRI showed a mass in my lower back. The E.R. doctor informed me that I would be admitted and more testing would be done to confirm his suspicions. I was then transferred to the neurology floor. After two biopsies, it was determined that I indeed had cancerous cells causing the mass. The samples from the biopsies would need to be further examined in order to determine my type and subtype of cancer. After many—many—more tests, prodding, and poking, I finally received a final diagnosis of my symptoms. It was not good, to say the least. I was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, B-Cell Non Hodgins Lymphoma.
Just a little under two weeks from my thirty first birthday, an oncologist looked me square in the eye and informed me that I had a really good chance of beating the cancer…I was also told that because the cancer had already progressed to Stage 4 that I faced the chance of not making it at all. Wow. What a terrible (understatement of the universe), horrible,, no good, very BAD early birthday present. As far as I was concerned, I only had one option: I was going to do whatever it was going to take to beat this cancer inside of me and WIN! I could not let it get the best of me and could not let it get me down. I did not plan to get cancer. However, I would not let it keep me from moving on with my life or being prosperous in years and experiences. After a week-long stay in the hospital, I was able to return home with a game plan as to how we (the oncologist, his team, and I) were going to beat the cancer. Here is an outline of what I did after being diagnosed with cancer and encourage others to do:
1) Take control.
I chose early on in the whole situation that I was going to take the high road and learn as much as I could about all of the aspects of what I was going through. I believe patients should learn about what is going on with their body, so they can ask their doctor questions and create the most effective treatment plans possible. Yes, the entire cancer journey was horrifically awful. I can say very few positive things happened as far as the treatment process is concerned, but I did my best to not let it get to me or slow me down in my efforts to conquer the disease which had tried to overtake me. My knowledge not only helped me to understand what all was going on and what I was going through, but it also helped me to help those who were caring for me by keeping them abreast of my progress and situation.
2) Be positive.
I found that the better attitude I had about it all, the easier it was to get through. One of the key factors of my cancer game plan was surrounding myself with positivity. I knew my health care professionals were also my cheerleaders and rooting for me all the way. I truly believe that my attitude and determination were what helped to get me through the darkest of times during my cancer struggles.
Good communication between all of the healthcare providers on your team is imperative. I also helped facilitate communication by staying on top of my appointments and test results. Now that my cancer is in remission, I follow-up with my physician by having a regular check-up. It is crucial that you do not skip your health check-ups. Doctors schedule check-ups, because it is more difficult to treat an issue in the body once it has become problematic.
4) Encourage others and yourself.
Nobody, and I mean NOBODY asks to get cancer. Nobody. That being said, I believe that everything happens for a reason, and we must learn from all things we experience. Even before I was through with my cancer adventure, I was able to use my knowledge and understanding to help others who were going through the same (not exact scenario as mine or even same type of cancer) thing as myself. Being able to share my cancer story with a positive light is one of the neatest experiences I have ever had. . It is amazing what can happen when you take the time to encourage yourself. If you or someone you know is experiencing pain, don’t wait like I did to see if your body will, “work itself out”. Schedule an appointment today to discuss your symptoms with a physician.
What is cancer? Cancer is a disease which is the result of the division, oftentimes uncontrollable, of abnormal cells.
What is a biopsy? A biopsy is the removal of tissue to further examine it for signs of abnormalities in the body.
What is lymphoma? Lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system.
What is an MRI? MRI or Magnetic resonance imaging is a technique using a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed pictures of the tissues and organs in the body.
What is a terminal illness? It is an illness which cannot be cured or effectively treated, thus generally causing death in the patient, usually within short period of time.
Are all cancers terminal? No. Regardless, it is still one of the scariest things a person could ever have the misfortune of experiencing.
What causes cancer? Good question. Like many diseases, the cause varies for different individuals. For some, cancer is brought on by years of poor choices or environmental factors, whether it be smoking, working with hazardous materials, or exposure to radiation. However, for others the equation for cancer is simply a draw of the short straw genetically. Then, there are the people like me, who just drew the short straw in general; there was no evident cause for my cancer, it just merely happened. My body decided to turn on itself and, and well, the rest, as they say, is history.
*This blog post is for your encouragement only. It is not intended to diagnose or cure any disease—including cancer.