Experiences Surrounding My Diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

A fellow cancer survivor recently asked me about my cancer experience. She discussed her initial symptoms and was surprised that I had none.

My diagnosis was an incidental finding. While preparing for a routine colonoscopy, my gastroenterologist suggested an ultrasound as I had a fatty liver in the past and he wanted to evaluate the status. Much to our surprise, enlarged lymph nodes were identified.

This began the myriad of physician visits, diagnostic tests, biopsies, and finally a diagnosis.

I remember receiving the phone call from my oncologist as we drove to spend a weekend at the shore. The biopsy revealed follicular non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

First numbness

I felt numb. This could not be real. It had to be a mistake. I was in denial.

Then, anger

Anger was my next reaction. How could this happen to me? I led a healthy life, worked hard, tried to eat healthily, exercised, and did not drink or smoke.

I loved my position as a Nursing Instructor after leaving a very stressful position as a chief nursing officer. I had just had the best summer of my life surrounded by family at the shore. I was reluctant to talk to anyone about my illness. Any discussion was avoided.

Overwhelmed

To complicate matters, my husband’s job was eliminated, and he was out of work.

Feeling overwhelmed and out of control became the norm. I felt helpless and sorrowful. I cried as I thought about my illness and the possibility that I would not see my beautiful granddaughter grow up.

My oncologist suggested a second opinion, and both recommended the “Watch and Wait” approach. This was difficult to accept as I had cancer and thought it should be treated.

How did I manage this diagnosis?

  • I began to read everything about this cancer and reputable resources. The Lymphoma and Leukemia Society was a tremendous support. My contact person listened and provided guidance. Her words still ring true. She advised that it would take time for me to accept the diagnosis and begin to handle its ramifications. She was so right.
  • Knowledge is power! As I learned more about my disease, I became an advocate for myself. My oncologist respected and answered all my questions. I read about the new treatments as my Leukemia and Lymphoma contact had told me that “there were numerous drugs in the pipeline." I began to understand this disease, current research, treatment, and prognosis. My oncologist recognized my need to explore all options and was and continues to be extremely supportive.
  • Expressed my feelings. Initially I did not talk to anyone about my disease. My husband is my greatest support and rock, and I was able to honestly share my fears and concerns. Family and friends were willing to help and listen when given a chance.
  • Looked for the positives. This was initially difficult as I tried to anticipate all possible side effects or outcomes. With practice, I am still learning to focus on what can go right rather than the negative. Unfortunately, my first two chemotherapy treatments resulted in hospital admissions as I had reactions. I celebrated the success of my third and subsequent treatments without complications.
  • Explored meaning of life. I discovered that my spirituality gave me comfort and helped me cope with my illness.
  • Found ways to relax. Meditation, yoga and journaling have helped me lessen stress and deal more effectively with the cancer diagnosis and treatment.

There is life after a cancer diagnosis. I remain in remission and consider every day a gift.

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