Cancer made me stronger and proved that I’m more resilient that I ever thought I was.
Before I was diagnosed with cancer I was a 2nd year in college, I was going to a small community college in my area. I was also helping my cousin babysit her daughter who was 3. Normal life for me was catching the bus, going to my classes, and babysitting my cousin's daughter almost everyday. I spent all my time with her. I noticed something was "wrong" when I started feeling really tired and developing bruises everywhere. My stomach, my back, my legs, my arms. I didn't think much of it until the bruises got bigger and in more awkward spots on my body. I went to my local hospital on December 11th, 2017 with a giant hematoma on my right hip and was there for 12 hrs with no clue on what was wrong. The doctors and nurses also had no idea what was wrong with me. I was sent to a hospital in San Diego, CA, about 2 1/2 hours away from my hometown via ambulance. I got there around 4 am and by 5 am the doctor told me that I had cancer.
I felt extremely overwhelmed, the only way I could explain the feeling was like my head was underwater. I couldn't hear much of what the doctor was saying, I couldn't breathe, my anxiety was in full force. My depression had also gotten extremely worse. I felt very alone. I was exhausted mentally and physically. The first day I was there I did non-stop testing. I had a bone marrow biopsy, an X-ray, CAT scan, EKG, etc. I was in and out of the testing the whole first day. I got my first round of chemo at 7 pm, and it was a 24-hour round until 7 pm the next day - for 7 days in a row. After the chemo week was down, it was just a waiting game to see if it worked. The side effects started to kick in. I lost my hair, I was vomiting, I had diarrhea, I had fevers and chills everyday. I developed an infection in my bowels and I wasn't able to eat or drink anything for 2 weeks. I then had an allergic reaction to the antibiotics for the bowel infection. After waiting about a month, the doctor told me the chemo worked and the leukemia cells are gone. But unfortunately the chemo wiped out my immune system and I was going to have to have a bone marrow transplant.
The hospital I was at, Scripps Mercy Hospital, did not do bone marrow transplants (BMTs) so I had to transfer to a different hospital. I was released to go home on January 6th, 2018. My oncologist called me in February to tell me I would have to go to their hospital in March for a routine round of chemo, just to make sure the leukemia cells hadn't eturned. I went to Jacob's Medical Center in San Diego in March and was admitted for chemo. I did my round and waited until my white blood cells were well enough to discharge me. I went back again in May for the same routine. In June my oncologist told me they found a match and I was going to have my BMT on July 20th, 2018. I went to the hospital a week before for some more chemo and finally had my BMT via blood transfusion. I stayed in the hospital for another few weeks. My hair fell out again due to the stronger chemo. I went through what is called Graft vs. Host Disease, or GVHD. GVHD is the body fighting off the transplant because it sees it as foreign. I developed sores all in my mouth and couldn't eat anything for weeks. I was tired, sore, nauseous, weak, etc.
My mom had to become my caregiver and we lived with my brother in San Diego during that time because I couldn't be too far from the hospital. We went 3 times a week for blood work, fluids, transfusions and appointments. We had to continue that routine for 100 days. After the first 100 days, the chances of my body rejecting the transplant went down so we were able to move back home in November of 2018. The next couple of years consisted of doctor's appointments twice a month, lots of side effects, medication, and just trying to get my life back in order.
Today I am 28 years old. I live on my own in my own apartment with my cat. I work from home and overall I am healthy and happy. Looking back feels unreal sometimes. When you go through something as huge as a cancer diagnosis you truly feel like everything has been taken from you. You feel lost and overwhelmed. I look back at that scared girl and I just want to hug and reassure her that in the end, we won. We fought like hell to get through this and we did come out victorious in the end. I am extremely proud of who I was 5 years ago and who I am now.
Cancer has completely changed my life and I am thankful for the place I’m at. I’ve become a mom, participated in national fundraisers, advocacy, and even shared my story with legislators who are fighting to update the Breast Care Equity Act.
I chose to deliberately and consciously dedicate my life - in and outside of my employment - to educate, advocate, and learn how best to represent the collective cancer community. Through my own experience surviving cancer and working in the medical space, I want to bridge the gap between the healthcare system and the communities that it serves.