Sharing Thoughts of My Ten Year Journey as a Blood Cancer Survivor
It seems unbelievable that at this time a decade ago I found myself in denial, feeling anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance with a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. These are the stages of grieving as discussed by Dr. Kubler Ross.1
My stages of blood cancer grief
I experienced each of these feelings. During a routine diagnostic test, my enlarged lymph node was identified This resulted in further testing of a CAT scan, PET scan and ultimately a bone marrow biopsy. My life was turned upside down. I had just experienced the best summer of my life as we vacationed with family. This could not be happening (denial). As the results indicated, I had follicular lymphoma.
Anger was the next stage as I was mad at this unexpected situation. How could this be happening at this time of my life? I felt frustrated and anxious and did not want to talk to anyone about my illness and instructed my husband that he would talk with the family.
I was fortunate to reach out to a volunteer from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and her support and encouragement helped me to enter the next stage of grieving, bargaining. She recognized that it would take time for me to accept this devastating news. My granddaughter just turned six and I feared that I would not be around as she grew and would miss the precious moments in her life. I decided to buy cards for her future birthdays and life events. I completed each and indicated my thoughts and wishes.
After my diagnosis, my oncologist recommended that I obtain a second opinion from the nationally renowned tertiary center in our area. This consultant concurred with the diagnosis and recommendations. The research has indicated that early treatment did not provide an improvement in long term survival, so that a watch and wait approach was suggested.
I found this difficult to accept. How could I have cancer and not be treated? I felt overwhelmed, helpless, and at times, hostile. This was the depression stage of grieving.
Slowly, I began to change the priorities in my life. I realized that I had been self-centered, and my attention was placed in my nursing career. Faith, family, and friends would now be the focus of the “new me”. My religion and spirituality gave me comfort during this difficult time. I enjoyed daily Mass when possible and volunteered to teach religious instruction to grammar school children in our parish. I decided to avoid any family drama as it would only add to my stress level. I made a commitment to never miss an opportunity to spend time with my granddaughter. This has continued as we have spent time making memories. As I write these thoughts, my sixteen-year-old young lady is beside me working on an arts and craft project. I am truly blessed. My friends have provided support and guidance.
My chemotherapy and immunotherapy were successfully completed after several bumps in the road. I did experience incapacitating fatigue which necessitated a six-month leave of absence from work. My goals today are to appreciate every moment. I was able to retire from full-time teaching and have traveled with my family. My focus is on good nutrition, exercise, and scheduled check-ups as indicated. The practice of yoga and reflexology have provided relaxation as well as I believe improved my immune system.
The lesions I've learned
The lessons I have learned from this journey as a cancer survivor include:
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. There are no guarantees in life.
- Enjoy each moment, spend the priceless time with family. We recently purchased a summer home with my son and his family and are surrounded with love.
- Consider adopting a pet. Our new puppy has provided love as well as the additional exercise of walking.
- Be knowledgeable. I continually read articles and research about blood cancer and possible treatments. Ask questions of your healthcare provider.
- Provide support to other cancer survivors. I volunteer as a First Connection contact for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Helping others who are experiencing the same situations can be most rewarding.
- Be positive. This can be a challenge as I tend to be a worrier, especially as my annual CT scan approaches and I experience "scanxiety”. Both my husband and my terrific oncologist provide support which lessens the anxiety.
My husband reminds me of the most comforting words spoken by my oncologist, “you may have decades of life with this disease.” It has been one decade, and I pray that this remission continues.