I Was a Perfectly Fit and Healthy 34-Year-Old (or so I thought)
I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma on December 19th, 2016. I can't even put into words how gut wrenching that feeling is when you are told "you have blood cancer". They found a 10cm mass over my heart. I had no emotion whatsoever for like the first hour, I was staring into space and my mind was blank. Thinking about how I was going to tell my family, as I knew from that moment on that our lives would be changed forever.
Hours later, the tears came flooding.
Being diagnosed with cancer is one thing. All the staging scans and biopsies after your diagnosis is another. These tests are not only nerve wracking but they are also very invasive.
First, there was an
MRI X MRI: Magnetic Resonance Imaging is a diagnostic technique that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to produce a detailed image of the body's soft tissue and bones. An MRI images the spine by using a magnet that goes around the body to excite hydrogen atoms.
of my brain to check that there was no spread to my brain as I had been having hallucinations in the months leading up to my diagnosis. Turns out that was fine and the hallucinations were from the tumour pressing down on a vein that connects to my brain.
Second, there was the
biopsy. X Biopsy: an examination of tissue removed from a living body to discover the presence, cause, or extent of a disease.
I was wheeled in to have a biopsy taken from the tumour so they could diagnose which type of lymphoma I had (there are over 50 types). This was not pleasant in the slightest. Imagine someone with a huge needle stabbing you in your chest and pulling out a bit of tissue (sounds exaggerated but it's not). Even though I was lightly sedated I could still feel them taking the chest wall tissue and extracting it. Not fun!
Third, there was the
Bone Marrow Biopsy. X Bone Marrow Biopsy: A bone marrow biopsy is when your doctor takes a small sample of your solid bone marrow tissue.
This was to check if the lymphoma had spread to my bone marrow. NOW THIS WAS THE WORST. I lay on my side and was given happy gas to suck on. A quite large needle was punctured through my back hip right into the bone itself. I have never experienced so much pain in my life. It was not a quick procedure either. The doctor had to puncture the bone a few times to get an adequate biopsy.
Lastly, there was the
PET scan. X PET scan: Positron emission tomography (PET) uses small amounts of radioactive materials called radiotracers, a special camera and a computer to help evaluate your organ and tissue functions. By identifying body changes at the cellular level, PET may detect the early onset of disease before it is evident on other imaging tests.
This was to see if there was any other cancer in my body and how far it had spread. Nerve wracking is an understatement to say the least.
After all of the staging tests, I was diagnosed with Stage II Classical Nodular Sclerosing Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Treatment could now proceed. I was told I would have 4 rounds of escalated BEACOPP chemo (a type of salvage chemo, my doctor said "let's hit you hard because you are young and can take it"). Then four rounds of ABVD chemo, then 15 days of Radiation to the Mediastinum and Lymph nodes affected.
Before treatment could proceed, I was seen by a fertility specialist (standard protocol). I was given two options only. I was told that because treatment needed to commence right away, I did not have time to freeze any eggs, so that option was out. So I was told that I could proceed with chemo without precaution and that more than likely my ovarian function would be destroyed due to the salvage chemo I was having. Option two was to have a monthly injection Zoladex administered into my stomach while on chemo that would force my body into a post-menopausal state in hope of "making my ovaries dormant" and protecting them from chemo. I was told that there was a 50/50 chance my body would reverse out of menopause and that my ovarian function would return. I had never thought much about having children but when the option was possibly taken away from me, it was then that I fell to pieces and realised that yes I would like to have children one day.
I opted to have the Zoladex so that I had a 50/50 chance one day. Let me tell you, being forced into menopause while going through cancer treatment isn't pretty. But I survived it! There were mood swings, hot flashes, back pain, nausea, weight gain and the list goes on. Some of these symptoms I am still dealing with. The last blood test I had on my hormone levels about 6 months ago was that my estrogen levels were that of an 80 year old.
Recently I have started gaining more hope. I started seeing a naturopath who gave me some herbs to help with this. Since taking her herbs I have now re-commenced my period, but only just in this last week. I am still yet to see an endocrinologist to measure where my hormone levels are currently sitting but I am hoping with every fibre in my being that my body is healing and my ovarian function is coming back!