What I wish I’d done differently during my non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatment

When I learned that I had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in June 2011, an acquaintance said that he knew people who’d received treatment for that disease and still carried on their day-to-day lives without any problems.

That made me feel like I couldn’t talk to anyone about what I was going through — which was sometimes really hard! Instead, I put on my best brave face. I didn’t want to be a burden to anyone, especially my family.

Today, I am cancer-free, and I have been since 2013. But it’s only in looking back today that I can admit how hard it was. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I wish I’d handled it differently.

My non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis

I began experiencing severe stomach pains not long after I turned 30. Eventually, they got so bad that my husband took me to the emergency room. A CT scan showed I had acute appendicitis. I needed surgery immediately.

But that wasn’t the only bad news: the ER doctors also said I had enlarged lymph nodes in my abdomen, which can be a sign of lymphoma. They thought that I probably had cancer.

My first reaction was shock and disbelief. I was a healthy mom with two very young children. And I had no other symptoms of lymphoma. But as it turned out, the doctors’ suspicions were right. Six weeks after my emergency appendectomy, I had a biopsy. And the results showed I had non-Hodgkin’s follicular lymphoma.

Why I’m glad I had appendicitis

I’m actually kind of grateful for the appendicitis today, because if it hadn’t been for that trip to the ER, I wouldn’t have had the CT scan that revealed I had cancer.

Once I did know, though, I felt no hesitation about going to MD Anderson. I’ve lived in Houston my whole life, so I knew its reputation. People travel from all over the world to go there, and I am lucky enough to have it in my own backyard.

At MD Anderson, I met with Dr. Sattva Neelapu, Dr. Craig Kovitz and Dr. Celyne Bueno-Hume. They recommended six months of chemotherapy, which I could receive at MD Anderson’s campus just 10 minutes from my Friendswood-area home.

Talk to someone

I tried my best to keep up with my children during treatment, and to act as if nothing had changed. That was a challenge, because many days I felt very sick. Taking care of myself was hard enough.

Since my husband had to work, I went to almost every one of my treatments and appointments alone. Other family members offered to come with me, but I just felt like I should be able to handle it myself. And because I was keeping my feelings all bottled up, I began to develop severe anxiety and depression.

That’s why I tell other people who are fighting cancer now to talk to someone. And don’t let anyone tell you how you should feel or compare how you feel to how someone else felt during their journey. This is your life and no two people are the same, so you can’t expect the same results.

The importance of accepting — and asking for — help

I also tell other cancer patients to ask for help if they need it, and to accept help when it’s offered. Your recovery depends on you taking good care of yourself. So, if someone wants to bring you a meal — or even take the kids off your hands for a few hours — let them. Don’t feel like you have to do it all alone.

Take advantage of any support you can get, especially if you have small children. Even if you feel embarrassed, ask for help anyway. Opening up about what you are going through is a vital part of the recovery process. I know that now.

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.