My world flipped upside down on August 28, 2019. A tangle of inconclusive results, feverish, frenzy and grim disbelief made my diagnosis the stuff of nightmares - Stage IV lymphoma, specifically subcutaneous panniculitis-like T-cell lymphoma (SPTCL) complicated with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH).
It's an aggressive and rare type of cancer with only 150 cases reported globally. The diagnosis came after staying in the hospital for about three months. I was told to start the chemo treatment the next day as I was really sick at that time. Everything was happening so fast. I had thousands of questions about chemo, radiation, surgery and infertility.
Cancer was a condition I could not control, but the way I would fight would be up to me. I was scared. I didn’t want to leave the world like this. I had so many plans for future – to have babies, get my own house and travel the world. Despite my momentary weakness, I knew I couldn’t afford to lose hope or faith. I would have to fight and beat cancer.
I had to go for six chemotherapy treatments, having one session each month. I was in the hospital until two chemotherapy treatments were complete. The worst part for me was when I started losing my hair, eyelashes and eyebrows. Losing your hair is horrifying. The physical changes also affected me mentally. I knew that this would be a long road ahead. I would undergo things that I could never imagine, and I would need all the love and courage I could get from my family and my friends.
As some of the chemotherapy was not working and I still had HLH symptoms, I was told that my best treatment option would be a stem cell transplantation, once I hit partial remission.
Cancer isn’t all that inspirational stuff that you see on TV or in movies. It’s a trauma. You look at yourself in the mirror and at old photos and you don’t even recognize yourself anymore. Your body isn’t your own and you have no idea what’s going inside it. So be kind to yourself. I can go on and on about how devastating my cancer diagnosis has been but what stands out is how I have continued to face my fears.
My rebirth happened on April 14, 2020. I am thankful to my brother for gifting me his magic cells and a second shot at having a normal life. I was excited but very anxious. I tried to focus on the positive outcome. I’m 1.5 years-old today! It's taken so much courage to get here. The first 100 days were critical because the transplant could be rejected and I could get a critical illness.
My stem cell treatment happened during the pandemic and I had to be isolated for 32 days in the hospital with no one to hug or hold my hands. I was on chemo and radiation therapy for seven days and had no idea what lay ahead. I had no clue what complications there might be, if the transplant would be successful or if I would be able to get my life back or meet my family again.
I am a survivor, a warrior and I have learned that the human spirit is stronger than any adversity. I’m finally starting to process a bit more of what I have been through over the last two years.
I got my biopsy results few days back before my cancerversary. Thankfully, there was NO evidence of cancer. Thank you to every single person who supported me through my transplant and cancer recovery - to the hospital staff and the local cancer community.
It's been a long journey to get here and, at some points, it felt like this day would never come. Growing COVID everywhere means I still need to continue to self-isolate. I'm just going to use this time to focus on my recovery.
I have completed my two-year cancerversary. I look back on the last two years and I am thankful of where I am and who I have become. Celebrate life. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger!! I will not let cancer take away my spirit, smile or will to survive. I won because I will never let cancer win. I’m winning and I’m living my best life.
Cancer is part of my story, but it does not define me. This is the start of a new chapter of my life. Hopefully, I will be in remission or cancer free after this.