Family first after my non-Hodgkin’s b-cell lymphoma diagnosis

When I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s B-cell lymphoma in August 2015, my
main concern was for my family. What was I going to tell my family?
And how were my children going to take the news?

My husband and I told our children, Stella (11) and Joshua (8), on a
Tuesday evening.  We tried to be very honest and transparent. We
talked about how things would change and how they could help.

My support network during B-cell lymphoma treatment

Even though my focus remained on my illness and treatment, I still
worried about the kids after our initial conversation. School was
about to start, so we met with the principal, school counselor and the
kids’ teachers.

The counselor told us about a non-profit organization that helps
children whose parents have life-threatening illnesses. We wanted to
make sure our kids got the best support available, so we looked into
it. Just knowing that there were people focused on them was such a blessing.

Chemotherapy close to home

After my initial B-cell lymphoma diagnosis, I met with Jason Westin, M.D., at MD
for a second opinion. He told me that he would
recommend the same chemotherapy regimen that my Austin-based
oncologist had — “R-EPOCH.”

As he put it, “If they’re going to do the same thing in Austin, you
might as well do it there and be close to your family and friends,
your support network.” My husband and I decided that I’d receive
chemotherapy in Austin.

A different decision

When my B-cell lymphoma returned in April 2016, I sought a second
opinion at MD Anderson. This time, Dr.
Westin recommended a different chemotherapy cocktail than my Austin
oncologist (“R-DHAP” instead of “RICE”), as well as radiation to
accompany the autologous stem cell transplant they both wanted
me to have.

I only have one life, so this really was a no-brainer. Given my
doctors’ knowledge and experience, I felt more comfortable receiving
treatment at MD Anderson.

That decision meant a lot of upheaval in our house, though. Who
would take care of the children? How would my daughter handle the
start of middle school without me at home?

Focusing on my family’s priorities

We spent the rest of the summer at my in-laws’ house in Houston. My
dad and stepmom drove in from Michigan to stay with the kids right
before school started. It was very stressful, but I was grateful for
the help.

I was getting my stem cells harvested for an autologous stem cell
transplant when Dr. Partow Kebriaei’s nurse gave me the best
news: once I was finished with apheresis, I could go home for four
days — one of which was the first day of school. Dr. Kebriaei knew how
important it was for me to see my son off to fourth grade and my
daughter off to sixth grade, so her thoughtfulness meant a lot.

Remembering why I came to MD Anderson

My autologous stem cell transplant took place on Sept. 7, 2016, and
I was discharged on September 21. Two weeks later, I was cleared to go
home. I was super excited, but my enthusiasm dimmed a bit when I
learned that I needed to be back in Houston a week later to start radiation.

Again, I had to remind myself why I came to MD
: because I have a beautiful family, and I want to
watch my babies grow up and have babies of their own. So I started
treatment under Bouthaina Dabaja, M.D., and over the next four
and a half weeks, we really got to know each other. We built such a
special bond that she came down to watch me ring the bell to mark the
end of my radiation treatment. That was a moment I’ll never forget.

My ‘forever family’ expands

Today, I remain cancer-free. Family is still my focus, but its
definition is broader. Now, it includes all of my MD Anderson doctors and inpatient nurses. They
carried me when I couldn’t carry myself. They walked me through the
halls so I could get exercise, encouraged me when I was down and got
to know me. I was much more than just a patient to them, and they are
much more than just doctors and nurses to me now. They are part of my
forever family.

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