A Hodgkin Lymphoma Survivor’s “New Normal”

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My life with cancer began five days before my wedding when I was 25 years old. On August 2, 2004, I was at a family birthday party when I felt a lump protruding out of my neck. After the party, I rushed over to see my stepdad who is a doctor.

Although he knew that the position of the lump at my age was not a good sign, he calmed me down and gave me antibiotics. After months of planning for the wedding, he knew how important it was for me to walk down the aisle.

On our wedding day, August 7, my arm was numb and I was unable to hold my flowers as I waited to walk down the aisle at church. More than 300 of our family and friends attended our beautiful reception. Through it all, I kept thinking that I needed something to help my pain.

After our honeymoon, I went to see an internal medicine doctor who sent me straight to the hospital. After reviewing my scans, a radiologist immediately sent me to a surgeon who told me it was lymphoma. They would conduct a biopsy to learn more, but I would need chemotherapy or radiation, or a mix of both.

I was shocked. I wondered how I would face my husband of three weeks and tell him the news. Over the next few days, I told my other family members and friends, promising everyone that I would be fine – desperate to believe that it was true.

After my biopsy and the days of waiting that followed, I was diagnosed with advanced stage Hodgkin lymphoma – or stage IIB. My treatment consisted of 12 rounds of eight-hour chemotherapy treatments known as ABVD.

Throughout my treatment and the side effects that came with it, there were many stories of love and support. Heroic nurses and medical staff stood by my side. So did my brave and often emotionally drained caretakers – my parents, sisters, extended family, friends, community members, and even strangers I had never met.

My friends organized dinners for me. I received hundreds of thoughtful cards and care packages. Over the course of months, while I endured chemo treatments, my friends flew in from out of town to hold my hand.

When I stepped out of the hospital to join the annual Light The Night walk in Tampa, I was greeted by more than 100 people who had come out to join my team. In 2005, I was honored to be named Fundraiser of the Year for LLS. The love and support I received had a huge impact on my attitude and health.

My last day of treatment was March 4, 2005. For years after, my family and friends celebrated that day as my “Carpe Diem” day. I still do something special for myself every year on this date to remind myself that I am alive and thriving.

Making it through a cancer treatment – whether it is chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, complementary therapies, or any combination of these – is something to admire.

However, living as a cancer survivor has some tough and often peculiar challenges that I was not expecting as I entered into this new phase.

Mentally, I was just beginning to process all that had happened. I attended funerals of other patients who I was treated alongside. While families were mourning the loss of their loved ones and I stood beside them to pay my respects, I felt a strange feeling, which I can only describe as guilty and ashamed.

Going to my oncologist’s office for a check- up was also difficult. I had a variety of lingering health issues but in comparison to cancer, they seemed minor. I felt selfish for taking up the doctor’s time when there were cancer patients in the waiting room.

I existed in a state of “survival” not “living” for years that followed. My friends and family who knew me before I had gotten sick, had the courage to remind me: “Kim, you forgot what it feels like to feel normal.”

I was desperately trying to squeeze back into my old life just as I had left it. When the truth was, I just was not the same person. This was when I realized I was going about things the wrong way and began to live my “new normal.”

For me personally, I did not begin to regain control of my life until I was finished with my scans and heard from my doctors that my cancer was not likely to return. That was five and a half years after my diagnosis.

Today, I have spent more than ten grateful years as a lymphoma survivor. Every day that I live as a survivor, there are scientists working tirelessly to find cures for my disease and many others. There are people fundraising in some of the most thoughtful and selfless ways so that dollars can go to find cures so that lives are spared.

Now that I have embraced being a survivor, I know that every day is a new beginning. My hope for others going through this process is that they listen to their intuition, pay attention to what their body is telling them, and when in doubt, practice gratitude!

Kimberly currently lives in Paia, Hawaii. She works as an integrated health coach and founder of EMPATH Coaching. To learn more about Kimberly’s cancer experience, visit her blog, www.empathcoaching.com

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