Feb052018

Joanna's Story

I was a healthy 33 year old with two young children, living a wonderful life with my husband and our girls. In the summer of 2013 I began breaking out into rashes, for no apparent reason. I went to see my family physician and he referred me to an allergist as well as a rheumatologist. Fast forward to the winter of 2014. My rheumatologist ruled out auto-immune disease and I continued to wait for an appointment with the allergist as the breakouts were becoming more frequent. On top of this I began to notice that I would have a fever every evening before bed, but in the morning it would go away. I also felt a small node in my collar bone area, but assumed it was just because I was feeling unwell. I had visited the ER several times during this period complaining of chest pain. They brushed it off. In fact one doctor suggested I see a physiotherapist as I may have 'pulled a nerve". In April of 2014 I developed a cough. This cough was non-productive but I could not shake it off. It got to the point where I couldn't speak a sentence without coughing. I finally got into see the allergist, who assured me that I was fine. At this point I was still breaking out in rashes (which were very very itchy), I had a cough that would not go away, I had night sweats, fevers in the evening, I felt pressure in my chest and the node on my collar bone was still evident. I had what I now know to be classic symptoms of lymphoma. The only problem was that at the time I had no idea what lymphoma even was. 

The long weekend of May 2014 was one I will never forget. I was at a point where I could hardly breathe and my heart was constantly beating out of my chest (very quickly I might add). He took me to the ER where they suspected a blood clot in my lungs. The following day a CT scan was ordered and my world came tumbling down. The ER doctor came into the room, sat down and broke the news to me. You have cancer. You need to see an oncologist to determine next steps. He sent me home with some papers and told me I'd be getting a call from the oncology department. I was still feeling unwell so the next day my husband brought me back to the ER. Within weeks I ended up in the ICU with pleural effusion (water around my heart) and quite a few other complications from the cancer. I met with my oncologist while I was an inpatient and she scheduled a biopsy to see what kind of lymphoma I had, as I couldn't start treatment until we knew. I also endured many other tests, had a PICC line inserted in my left arm and had the water removed from around my heart. On June 1st, 2014 I was officially diagnosed with Stage 4B Hodgkin's Lymphoma. On June 2nd I began ABVD chemo and this went on until November 6, 2014. Six gruelling months of hospital visits, complications, hair loss, mouth sores, nausea and vomitting. Following chemo a PET scan was ordered and a week later my oncologist called me with the best news of my life. I was NED (no evidence of disease). This past November I celebrated 3 years in remission. I am thankful for every day that I have on this earth with my babies and family and friends. Cancer has definitely changed me. I will never be the same as I was before cancer. I thank God for all of the support I received (and continue to receive) throughout my treatment. I turned to support groups, online chat rooms and various forums to get through some of my roughest days. I urge anyone going through something as traumatic that they find support. You will feel alone, but when you can connect with somebody who has been through the same thing, it will be of immense help.

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