I went from pregnant and glowing to tremendously ill quite quickly. The
early days at home with Nicholas were full of the typical baby-related
challenges, as we had expected. But things didn’t get easier as the days
passed. I experienced what I thought were post-partum symptoms and possible
complications from my c-section….fevers, night sweats, shortness of breath.
And boy, was I tired. But I had a newborn, and I figured, “so this is
what everyone is talking about!”
After several visits with my OB, my symptoms eventually landed me in the
emergency room. A battery of tests ensued, which revealed an enormous mass
in my chest. No wonder it was so hard to breathe when baby Nicholas rested on
my chest. The mass was biopsied immediately, but the procedure was too
stressful for my already strained system. I wasn’t breathing well during
biopsy, so I was placed on a ventilator and stayed in the ICU for a week.
Doctors began chemo immediately – my first treatment actually took place
when I was asleep under the power of the ventilator. When I woke up,
reality sunk in. I had cancer. What a frightening word. Cancer is something
that happens to other people, not to me. I was only 32. I had a new baby
that needed me. I had to return to work. I had plans. This was not my
plan. But, everyone emphasized that this was a good cancer to get. It was
highly treatable. I’d be free of it in a short period of time and would be
able to move on with my plans.
For the next 6 months, I underwent the standard chemotherapy treatment for my
disease. Maternity leave from work became disability leave. Family and
friends came from all parts of the world to take care of me, and my husband,
and baby Nicholas. The switch from doing the caring to being cared for was
emotionally very difficult. I was supposed to be the nurturing one. For
nine months, I had been “becoming” a mom. Now, I was back in the arms of
my own mom.
After six months of standard chemotherapy, it became clear that my disease
was unusually aggressive. It turns out that my Hodgkin’s wasn’t the easy
kind to get rid of. During the next six months, my excellent team of
physicians attempted three more chemo regimens in an effort to reduce the
amount of disease in my body, but nothing proved to be “the cure.”
In October of 2012, I had a stem cell transplant at UCSF. My younger sister
was a perfect match and donated her stem cells to me. The transplant was
successful in that the graft started working and her healthy cells starting
killing the wicked Lymphoma ones in my body to the point where they
disappeared. I experienced (and continue to experience) quite a bit of side
effects from the transplant and medications and graft-vs-host disease.
Approximately one year after transplant (Oct. 2013), there was a recurrence
of the disease. Since then, I have been on a chemo regimen in an effort to
get into remission again!
Facing cancer opened my family’s eyes to the fact that it can really happen
to anyone—even when you are 32. When you are healthy, cancer is just
something that you hear about, read about, and see in movies. But when you
yourself get sick, you find out that cancer actually all around.
I am very surprised that I haven't heard of MAMCF yet, as being a mom with
cancer is very much a part of my identity. I'd love to connect with moms in
similar situations, give and receive support, and give back to my community!
Donate in honor of Caitlin here.