In the fall of 2016, my life was forever changed by a cancer diagnosis. For most of my life, I’ve been sort of an outlier, so it shouldn’t have surprised me that I would be diagnosed with a little-known blood cancer in the black community called lymphoma.
My cancer journey began with unintentional weight loss, extreme fatigue, decreased appetite, and a constant feeling that something was lodged in my throat. Over the next few months, I saw two different doctors that looked down my throat and diagnosed me with acid reflux. I took the prescribed medication during this time and still didn’t feel any better, I actually began to have difficulty breathing while trying to sleep.
By now it’s September, and I go see the third doctor who was my PCP and he did something the other two hadn’t, which was order a CT scan of my chest. Later that day, I received a call that there was a mass the size of an eggplant in my chest and I needed a biopsy asap. On September 30, 2016, I received the news no one wants, which is that I had cancer…Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma to be exact.
The first thought that crossed my mind was: what is lymphoma and how did I get it? Lymphoma is a blood cancer that begins in the lymphatic system when white blood cells called lymphocytes grow abnormally and form a mass.
Doctors do not know what causes lymphoma and to date, there are no routine screenings to detect it.
The biopsy revealed that I had Stage 2b Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma (DLBCL), which is an aggressive subtype and typically affects Caucasian men and those over the age of 60. It also affects people who are overweight and have a high-fat diet or a sedentary lifestyle.
Absolutely none of these criteria fit me as a Black woman, 46 yrs. old, in great physical shape, low-fat diet, and always on the move. This was yet another outlier moment in my life.
Due to the aggressive nature of the cancer, I was hospitalized while receiving chemotherapy 24 hours a day for five days straight during every