Very few things in life are truly perfect, but the Fourth of July, 2009, was all that and more.
Image by found_drama via Flickr
But like the fireworks that mark Independence Day, my life became a series of ground-level firework markers that reverberated for eight months, before burning themselves out. On July 5, my story began as I entered the hospital with a dangerous fever spike and coughing with pyrotechnic output remarkably like Mons Vesuvius. A CAT Scan and several x-rays later, I was released, only to reprise the visit in three days. That's when the real fireworks erupted. Five white lab coats entered to inform me that beyond pneumonia in both lungs, I should "get my life in order...arrange for a living will...and did I need counseling." White Lab Coats have a way speaking beyond the person, in an impersonal objectification whose subtext is your clock is ticking (did I mention I was alone).
A bronchoscopy, more tests than April's PSSAs, and a four-day hospital stay that was my best experience with compassionate care and cooking, and I was released with a life sentence, aka, nothing significantly wrong. My summer was iconic and idyllic; I looked out on 185 acres, my girls, and a wonderful life. For the duration of time from then to now, I was monitored. CAT Scans, PET Scans, and more hematology-sticking repeated at regular intervals led to a mediastinoscopy because my lymph nodes had grown. Subsequent to a diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin's Follicular Lymphona, Grade 2, a bone marrow test was administered as part of the staging for determining treatment protocols (would prefer surgery to another bone marrow test). The following video of a bone marrow biopsy is graphic, perhaps not for the fainthearted.
If the video above is too graphic, try this animation.
Throughout my journey, I gained a newly-found respect for many aspects of my experience; the treatments and the people who administer them, but most of all, I respect bone marrow donors. Truly, I am not certain I could be that brave again.
My next step is a second opinion appointment at UPenn Hospital, and then a conference with my oncologist to determine appropriate treatment as a result of my staging tests. Since childhood, I have been an optimist, determined to live my life fully, on my own terms, accepting the responsibility for my informed decisions. Nothing has changed. I will survive, I will endure, and I will begin beating back cancer. The fight has already begun.
Non-Hodgkin's Follicular Lymphoma
Cancer Center University of Pennsylvania