I went to urgent care on Labor Day weekend (2013) because I’d been having strange symptoms for a while – I was exhausted all the time, and I had a lump on the side of my neck the size of a golf ball. I’d just started my first year of teaching, and I wanted to chalk it all up to stress. I thought, worst case scenario, I had mono. Cancer was the last thing I thought of.
Finding out I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma – and having to share that with my family – was so surreal. You don’t feel like it’s your life, it’s like you’re watching someone else from the outside. But I was floored by the outpouring of support from my friends and family and coworkers. Knowing that I had those people as my team, my backbone, was huge for me. I know not every person diagnosed with cancer has that support and that’s why I want to share my story. Connecting with other patients and survivors has helped me realize that I’m not alone.
I chose Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (Fred Hutch’s treatment arm) for a second opinion and once I was there, I never looked back. My doctors were specialists in my type of cancer, and they always made me feel like a priority. What I liked most was that my care was a team effort. There were so many people fighting for me and the best possible outcome. Last July Dr. Stephen Smith pronounced me "cancer-free." It’s overwhelming to think about how far I’ve come through the months of treatment. I did all of that and I’m still here.
I teach junior high, and last year, two of my students also had cancer and were bullied at our school because they’d lost their hair and had other visible side effects from their chemo. So we had a school-wide assembly on bullying and awareness, and those two kids shaved my head in front of the entire school. Some other teachers and my principal also shaved their heads in support. It let me open up to my students in a way I hadn’t before. And I rocked my bald head for the rest of the year.
Not that I wanted to ever get cancer, but I’m thankful to have it now as opposed to 20 years ago. I had the best care imaginable because of technology we have now and the research that made that possible. My doctors at SCCA and the researchers at Fred Hutch, these are people who spend every single day of their lives and their jobs trying to find a cure for cancer. I can’t even imagine where we’ll be in a year, five years or 10 years from now.