When I was 17 years old, cancer was the furthest thing from my mind. I was focused on school, sports, and friends. I never really thought twice about my mortality. Like most kids, I thought that I was invincible, that nothing could harm me because I was young. So when I noticed a big lump in my neck during my junior year, I ignored it. After a few weeks the lump grew larger, so my mom took me to a doctor, who brushed it off as a virus and sent me home. Weeks later it was still there, so my mom took me to our trusted family physician who insisted I have tests the next day at a nearby hospital. Two days later, a biopsy confirmed that I had Stage II-A Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
I never had major health problems growing up, so to find out that I had cancer – and that I’d had it for about year – was a complete shock to me and my family. I transformed from “high school student” to “cancer patient” literally overnight and was quickly immersed in a world of medical jargon, surgeries, and medications I couldn’t pronounce. Just days after my diagnosis, I began the first of six chemotherapy rounds, which lasted until the fall of my senior year of high school. I have been in remission for eight years and am currently cancer free.
I learned to be an advocate for myself at a very young age, which has been an invaluable lesson not only as a cancer survivor but as an adult. Before my diagnosis, I could care less about going to the doctor and wouldn’t think twice about accepting a doctor’s opinion. But what 17-year-old would? Looking back, if my mom hadn’t insisted that we seek a second opinion about the lump in my neck, my cancer may not have been diagnosed as early as it was. My story is not meant to scare anyone into thinking they might have cancer or to rush to the emergency room with any tiny bump or freckle. Rather, I want to use my cancer experience as a tool for others to show how important it is for young women to take care of their bodies, advocate for their health, educate themselves about women’s health issues, and lead healthy lifestyles.
My cancer and chemotherapy treatments made me more vulnerable to other types of cancer, so I follow strict guidelines to ensure I stay as healthy as possible to avoid getting cancer again. Although lymphoma is not a preventable disease, early detection was key to my survival, and prevention is now a part of my everyday life. This is the first of a series of blog posts about steps young people can take to prevent cancer. Having cancer was my wake-up call to start taking care of my body, but you shouldn’t have to be a survivor to make healthy lifestyle changes. Keep reading the Prevent Cancer Foundation Blog to hear more of my story and learn how young people can reduce their risk.
My cancer was not preventable, but many of them are. Check out www.preventcancer.org to find out how you can stop cancer before it starts.