I was first diagnosed in 1990 with lymphoma. I was in California at that time and noticed a lump on the side of my neck, so I went to the doctor to get it checked. The doctor suggested a biopsy, and the results showed that I had Lymphoma cancer.
I was 24 years old then, had just finished college two years ago, and was always in organized sports. So I was quite athletic, and the injuries I had playing sports always healed pretty quickly.
Our first reaction to the news
The news of cancer shocked me because I was a healthy person with no bad habits that would have increased the risk, and no family history would suggest cancer.
I was the eldest of four children in the family, and my parents took it hard because I was their firstborn and my siblings were also concerned because I was their eldest brother. After hearing the news, there was a time when I was pretty sad about it.
Treatments I underwent
We went through further diagnosis, and more tumours were found in my spleen. We discovered that through a splenectomy. And since this was thirty years ago, the procedure was pretty invasive, and I still have a large scar from the surgery.
After surgery, radiation was recommended to me. The radiation therapy that must have only taken six months was administered to me over ten months because the parameters of my blood were fluctuating, and I was getting tired fast.
I had to get radiation once a week, and I treated it as something on my to-do list. The radiation was given from my jaw to the area above my groin, and as a result, I lost some hair, and there was also a loss of moisture in my mouth which made food taste stale and made swallowing hard.
My support group
Weight loss was a significant concern during the treatment. I went from 210 pounds to 169 pounds, and during that time, my friends were the most incredible support. They would come over during late nights and ask me what I wanted to have. It was usually comforting junk food that made you feel better, but they made sure I had something in me.
I had the support of these friends and family. My mother was the person who took me to the weekly radiation appointments. And maybe because I was young, I did not take the disease as seriously as I should have. I continued to work throughout the ten months of treatment and would say that I was in denial to a certain level.
I informed my supervisor about it but made it very clear that I didn’t want it to be a big deal in the office. I did not like the sympathy of anyone, and I just wanted to get done with it and move on with my everyday life as much as possible.
Throughout the period, I had to inform the supervisor that I was tired and took some time off, but I made sure I was working and kept myself distracted from the process.
After the treatment
After the radiation treatment got over, I had to begin taking thyroid medicines because the doctors had predicted that the treatment would affect my thyroid levels. They spoke about the remission period, which is five years, and told me if I got past that, I am cancer free.
Six years later, I had a bad cough that lasted about three weeks. I initially thought it was just some sickness, but the severity of it made me go to my doctor. I was referred to an oncologist who checked my body and found a lump near my left armpit.
A second encounter with cancer
The oncologist found that the reason for the cough was fluid accumulation against my lung. To temporarily relieve the cough, they performed a spinal tap, where they inserted a needle in the sine and sucked the fluid out of the body.
I felt like this was happening because I did not take it seriously the first time. So when I was diagnosed for the second time, I dealt with it differently. The very next day, I called my manager and told him what was going on and said I’d come back after I dealt with it.
The support group I had before was still there, but when they saw how serious I was about the process this time, they were more supportive and involved.
I was going through chemotherapy to treat the tumours and started noticing my hair fall out. It was something I expected but wanted to be in control of, so the next day I went to the barber and shaved it off. Going through the journey this time, I had learnt to accept it instead of living in denial and that I think made all the difference. After the treatment ended in 1997, I was in remission.
Life in Remission
After completing the treatment, I asked my doctor if I was cured entirely this time, and he told me a very interesting thing. He said that when I pass away, we will be sure that we are healed when there comes a point in life.
That stuck with me and is even today motivating me to be the healthiest version of myself. A part of me doesn’t trust myself because I know that I will be complacent with myself if I start believing that I am cured. So the words of the doctor have been a source of motivation to keep living a healthy life.
My mental and emotional well-being during the journey
There were moments during the second time when I felt uncomfortable and unhappy with what was going on. Every time I felt that way, I told myself that every day I thought this way, I was losing a day to be happy. This was another motivation to live not only a healthy life but also a happy one. I understood that if I was not happy with something, I should do something about it.
It is a motivator that keeps me in check physically and emotionally. Cancer has made me realize things about myself and given me a different perspective on life. People who know me always praise me for being very disciplined, and my experience with cancer has enhanced that quality in me and made me appreciate everything I have better.
My message to people
Cancer, to me, was a health issue; what helped me was providing my body with what it needed and rebuilding it. Even Though I have been through cancer twice, I knew I could build myself to be better than I was before, and that is a message I would share with people.
Think about becoming a better version of yourself. It could be different for each person. For me, it was rebuilding myself physically. Find the thing that will help you overcome what is happening right now. It could be something as simple as reading books or reconnecting with your family but finding that thing could help you through the journey.
It is not up to the doctors to take care of your health. Learn to manage your own body; this will take a long way. Having a support system will make the process of going through the treatment a lot easier, and finally, don’t let cancer define who you are. It is just a part of your journey and not the end of it.