In late 2014, I was diagnosed with peripheral T-cell lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. At the time, I had no idea what that would entail or how it would affect my life.
Here are five things I learned after going through treatment.
1. Surrender to the healing process. Once you’ve accepted your diagnosis and decided where you want to be treated, it’s important to have faith in your care team. Ask questions whenever you need to, of course, but trust their expertise. This way, you can focus on the process of healing.
To get where I am today, I had to go through two stem cell transplants, a clinical trial, and even a brief, medically induced coma. I also had to try several different drugs in preparation for my second stem cell transplant under Dr. Amin Alousi, before finding a targeted therapy drug called alemtuzumab that worked. But I’m glad we persisted, because after a few rounds of it, I was able to have my allogeneic stem cell transplant on July 12, 2017. And, so far, I remain cancer-free.
2. Stay positive. At some point in your cancer treatment, it might feel like you’re going through hell. And, in many ways, you are! But in order to stay upbeat from one day to the next, it’s crucial to believe you can beat this and come out on the other side of it. Cancer treatment can be grueling, but I always had the attitude that MD Anderson was going to get me through it.
Today, I’m still dealing with some side effects of my treatment, like nausea and fatigue. And my hormone levels are out of whack, so I’m seeing an endocrinologist. But I’m feeling a lot better nearly two years after my second stem cell transplant. My blood counts continue to improve, I’m finally getting my energy back, and I’ve had all of my baby vaccines to protect my new immune system.
3. Never listen to the statistics. The first thing I told my doctors was that I didn’t want to hear my prognosis. I only wanted to know our next steps in the process of getting better.
I kept to that decision consistently, whether I was meeting with a new doctor or about to get a scan result. It helped me to see cancer as just an obstacle that I was going to overcome and focus on the treatment plan and not the diagnosis/prognosis. This approach helped me stay grounded and sane, and I was able to continue practicing as an attorney, even opening my own solo firm during the treatments.
4. Practice meditation. Meditation has been one of the most useful and helpful things in my life — both during and after my non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis and treatment. It helps me calm down and feel less fearful and anxious, especially when life gets scary or stressful.
Prior to my diagnosis, I would pass out a lot of times just getting blood drawn. Now, I just close my eyes and go into a peaceful, meditative state. This is particularly helpful before painful or stressful situations, such as bone marrow biopsies, PET scans, or any kind of needle sticks. It allows my mind to just be empty. I did it during treatment, and I continue to do it every day.
5. Plan regular rewards. Doing fun stuff and always having things on the horizon to look forward to helped me stay positive during my treatments. And while it was great to plan big trips for when I was better, I’d also try to plan small things like, “Once I get out of here today, I'm going to see a movie or take a nice walk in the park, or go to the Astros game.”
I’ve always loved trying new restaurants, so I’d look for different ones whenever I was in the hospital and then try them out whenever I could. So, always have something in your mind to look forward to. It really makes a difference.
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