When people think of cancer too often fear gets in the way of allowing us to look past the cancer itself and to the people who have been diagnosed with the disease.
When people think of cancer too often fear gets in the way of allowing us to look past the cancer itself and to the people who have been diagnosed with the disease. Everyone who receives a diagnosis of cancer has their own unique journey and for those of us fortunate enough to have beaten cancer, National Cancer Survivors Day is our day to be celebrated and to be recognized. It is important for people to know that cancer does not define me, but I am indeed a survivor.
Sports have always been a key part of my life and I work in the Athletic Department at Rutgers University, so it was only fitting that my lymphoma journey began in a football stadium. On September 29, 2007, after a Rutgers vs. Maryland football game, I was running up the stadium steps when suddenly I began having trouble breathing and dropped to one knee. I knew something was wrong, I did not, however, know how serious it would be. I was admitted to the hospital on October 1, 2007, and after some testing it was revealed that I had massive fluid buildup in my chest. I stayed in the hospital for 21 days while they tried to drain this fluid. During this ordeal, I could barely walk.
Once the doctors finally drained the fluid they discovered that I had a large mass, the size of a football, in my torso. This was all so unbelievable to me. The truly terrifying news came the next day though, when my primary doctor diagnosed me with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. He suggested I call my family right away because he told me I only had two weeks to live. I was devastated. Both my mother and my stepmother died from cancer and I refused to believe that I would meet the same fate. I am naturally a competitive person and later that night I decided that I would do all I could to beat lymphoma and overcome the odds against me.
I had my first round of chemotherapy in November, which lasted 12 hours. My second chemotherapy treatment was given a few days before Thanksgiving. Before they could assess whether the therapy was working or not though, the doctors discovered that I had fluid in my spinal cord that had to be removed. This meant that in addition to the chemotherapy, I would also need 23 sessions of radiation. Throughout all of my treatments I tried to remain positive and strong.
I am proud to say that I finished my treatment in July of 2008 and have been in remission ever since. I am a survivor and on National Cancer Survivors Day it is important to remember that just like on the field, even when things seem like they are down to the wire it is important to keep your chin up and keep going strong. I am here today as living proof of that.
While I was still in treatment, I attended my first Lymphoma Research Foundation (LRF) Lymphoma Walk and it was truly life-changing. I met so many survivors who inspired me immensely. I knew once I was in remission that I wanted to be that inspiration for others too. I have organized a Zumbathon, a bracelet drive, and a fundraising dinner to support my Lymphoma Walk team Medley’s Soldiers. I remember my first walk and how weak I was, which made it all the more important for me to complete the walk. After all, it is not how you start, but how you finish that really matters. Now I am pleased to represent the Foundation as an Ambassador further spreading awareness and education so that others can benefit from what I endured.