Zayne is off Chemo this week so I wanted to post one of our Bonds between heroes stories. Todays Story is written by Samantha. She is an amazing elementary school counselor. She has a beautiful heart and truly cares about the students. I am so grateful she was willing to her powerful story.....
At 21, you pretty much feel like you are invincible. So when I went to the emergency room on May 9th of 2007 with breathing difficulties and they told me I had pleurisy (an inflammation of the lining of your lung), I happily went home and took my Vicodin prescription and didn’t think another thing of it. But later that day my general physician called – I let it go to voicemail. “Samantha, please call me when you get a chance.” If it was something important, I am sure she would have said that in the voicemail right?! So later that day when she called again I hit deny right away and waited to see what she would say this time….SAME thing!
I had just finished my college finals for my junior year and felt like I had WAY better things to do than call her back. So I let this little “game” go on for just over a week. Finally, sick of her persistence, I picked up my phone on the morning of May 17th. It is funny how even after 7 years have passed, you don’t forget the dates and details….
“Samantha, I need you to come in for a follow up.”
“Well, I am a little busy today….” (I mean, summer break you know!)
“Samantha, you need to come down to my office immediately, I promise it won’t be long.”
(Big groan…)”Okay okay!”
I never thought to ask if there was a problem, my only thought was how annoying she was…how dare she constantly call me! And then…not even care what my plans were! I called my dad (who worked at the hospital) to ask him if he thought this was weird…and on the phone with him while I retold the whole thing was the first time I thought something might be wrong.
Dad met me at my doctor, we didn’t have to wait at all. I remember I sat on the table, my dad in a chair to my right. The doctor sat on the stool to my left and with some X-Rays in her hand she changed my life forever. “Samantha, you are a doctor’s worst nightmare, I have been trying to reach you for a week now. Your X-Rays showed a mass in your chest, 8.6 x 11.8 x 6.5 cm in your chest to be exact. Because of where it is we will need to do a biopsy as soon as possible and then determine a treatment plan.”
My first thought was that she must have made a mistake…I always swallow my gum I thought…it must be a big gum wad! (I even suggested this idea to her, which she assured me was definitely not the case.) My dad’s immediate reaction was to “get a needle and biopsy then, NOW!”
The rest of the conversation was a blur, but I was scheduled for surgery at 7 am the following day. My dad and I, both in total shock (and probably denial), didn’t know how to part. So we stuck with our original plans – I met a friend for lunch and he returned to work. Once in my car I called my mom, who was at work and immediately started crying. I tried to reassure her but she ended up letting me go to process everything.
From that moment until Halloween the days passed so painfully slow, but looking back it is a blur of many memories that have helped create who I am. Memories of testing my strength, my emotions, my faith, and my determination to keep moving forward….one day at a time.
I had my biopsy which left a scar on my upper left chest. I was diagnosed Sunday May 20th with Large B Diffuse Cell nonHodgkins Lympmoma. I had a port put in Monday, leaving another scar (sometimes I HATE my scars and how you can see them pretty much all the time, but other times when I look in the mirror and see them I am so proud….they have so much story and life behind them).
On May 23rd I started my chemotherapy…CHOP-R (more random details that only a survivor and their caregivers remember). I had one treatment every three weeks….this gave just enough time to allow my body to recover and tease me before knocking me back down again for another round. I had 6 rounds total, and then 23 rounds of radiation. I completed all of my treatment right before Halloween.
Throughout my treatment my doctor and his nurse often complimented me on how positive I stayed, but there were so many days that I struggled. My mom and dad were my biggest supporters and caregivers and saw my good and my bad. They did countless things that to this day mean the world to me and showed how much they love me, believe in me, and would have done anything to take my cancer.
I remember my mom got cable put in at my apartment (I was a poor college kid with bunny ears). It probably doesn’t seem like a big deal, but I watched that thing like no other while I was sick. She also got me a landline so I could contact my doctors and never have to worry about service on my cell…it was all the little things. She would come stay with me during every treatment until I was back to having my few “good days”. She talked me through multiple break downs….I remember one day I had spent one of my “good days” at lake Michigan playing in the waves with friends and enjoying the sun. The heat had made me sick to my stomach three times that day (due to my meds) but I was determined to be “normal” that day. Another medicine I was on made my skin and bones super sensitive (sometimes just lying in my bed felt like someone was hitting me). So after a long day with waves crashing into me I could barely move. I remember I crawled (literally crawled) to my phone to call her, sobbing. I told her I was done, I couldn’t take this anymore. I felt like before the chemo I had felt “healthy” and that the chemo was killing me….I told her all of this, and repeated that I was dying. But like always, she encouraged me. I don’t remember what she told me but whatever it was it put things back into perspective for me. Tears weren’t going to make my tumor go away (although sometimes they definitely helped).
As I said, my dad worked at the hospital. This definitely worked to my benefit. He would constantly check on me during all of my treatments and was able to attend all of my appointments. He always asked what (if anything) sounded good to eat and he would then go work his magic in the kitchen and convince them to make whatever I wanted. He would also get me one of the nurse’s computers so I could play games and watch DVD’s during my chemo.
My brother and sister also played a big support for me. My brother brought me tons of books, puzzles, and games to keep me busy. My sister (who can’t stand ANY part of hospitals, needles, etc) even came and sat with me during a chemo treatment. I remember her sitting (only able to look out the window)…but just her being there meant the world to me.
I think that is one thing that made all of the difference in the world to me and my journey – the people that surrounded me. I could honestly share hundreds of stories that happened in my 6 month journey of how others showed love, compassion, concern, and friendship. Cancer is something that stretches you to the absolute limits….and then it pulls a little more. And it doesn’t just stretch the patient, it stretches everyone involved. I received a card from my mom during my treatments and on the cover it said, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and loved more than you know.” I still have that card tucked away and believe every word of it. Although it is probably the hardest way to learn it, cancer teaches you that you can do anything, that you are stronger than you could ever imagine, that life is so precious….and worth every second (even in the bad).
I am so proud to say that I am a survivor, to have all of the memories that have made me who I am, and to be a part of something that represents such strength and determination across the world.