I was diagnosed with cancer…

In the fall semester of 2014, my junior year, I was diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I went home and found a lump on my neck and my family and I thought nothing of it at first but we went to the doctor a couple days later and the doctor said, ‘I can’t be sure but this maybe lymphoma.’ After a series of biopsy’s I was officially diagnosed a week after noticing the lump. Which was crazy since it happened so fast.

After finding out about your diagnosis, what was going through your head?

“Mainly shock, I was very surprised. I was treated at CHKD which is the hospital I started volunteering at when I was 16 in the cancer clinic so I have seen tons of patients come in with different forms of cancer, and I never thought that I would be diagnosed with cancer. When I was diagnosed I was extremely shocked, I don’t know how to describe it, and all I wanted was to figure out my treatment plan and get started”

What was it like from observing patients on the outside to actually becoming one?

“It opened my eyes a lot. As a volunteer I always felt bad because I didn’t feel like I could empathize with the kids I worked with. I felt bad for these kids because they have to go through this horrible ordeal but yet they’re so young. I could be there to distract them, play games with them, dress up, draw or something like that, but I could never fully understand the pain and emotional trauma they were going through. Even something as simple as when you start chemo they flush your system with saline and for every kid I have ever met and me myself, it tastes and smells horrible. It even makes me nauseous just thinking about it. That’s something that you can’t smell or experience as an outside person. Whenever children would be given saline they would always get extremely upset, and I could never understand what they were going through. For me it was horrible having to go through all of that treatment but at the same time I want to work with children with cancer in the future and that experience helped me understand their feelings and what they were going through.

During your experience through treatment, was there ever a time that you were most afraid?

“A couple times I was worried that maybe I wouldn’t get better. It wasn’t because of anything the doctors said, it was just a combination of my medication and own personal fear. Even now, I have been in remission for 10 months but I still worry sometimes it may come back even though my doctor said I have less than a 5% chance of it coming back.”

After going through this experience, has this caused you to change the way you live your life?

“Definitely, I listen to people a lot more and try and be more observant and less self-centered. I didn’t consider myself self-centered before, but now I try and do as much as I can for anyone that needs it. Whether it be as big as talking to one of my friends who has cancer or something as small as picking up a friend to take them to one place to another. I have more of an appreciation for the important people in my life and I want to show them how important they are to me and how much I love them.”

How did your cancer affect your school life?

“When I was diagnosed over thanksgiving break I had to leave school and I couldn’t come back until the fall semester of the following year. While I was home I was still taking online classes and I still had to make up the 5 exams of the classes that I was in from finals. But the school was very flexible with me finishing the exams and while I was going through treatment I took a couple courses online and this allowed me to keep up with everyone else, so now I’m still able to graduate on time. When I first got diagnosed my first thought was now I have to graduate in December 2016 instead of May 2016. I was sad at the thought that I wouldn’t get to walk with all of the friends that I made here since the beginning of my freshman year. But as long as pass this semester I get to graduate on time and it’s all the more special to me.

What was the response from the William & Mary community when you were diagnosed?

Everyone was very supportive, my professors were flexible with when I needed to take my exams. And the group that I’m with on campus now, Tribethon, were amazing. Their dance marathon raises money for CHKD, the hospital I volunteered for and was treated in. During the very first dance marathon they had last year I was still going through treatment, but I felt well enough to come back and I got to meet everyone that was doing so much for this hospital that was taking care of me, and they were all very welcoming and supportive when I met them. I never met them before but they were all really amazing people. All the girls from my freshman hall sent me a wonderful care package which I did not expect, with all these cards and gifts. It was safe to say that I was overwhelmed with the amount of support I gained from the William and Mary community.

What does it mean to you to be involved in Tribethon this year?

“It means so much, I’m so excited that I get to be a part of it this year. It was something I definitely wanted to do when I came back. One of the heads of Tribethon, Eileen Dolan, a very good friend of mine, and Thomas Fergus started this group. I am so happy it started because CHKD is incredibly important to me. I was actually treated there when I was only a few weeks old, so it has been a part of my entire life. Being able to be a part of Tribethon and being able to give back to the hospital and the doctors and nurses that I have come to know is huge for me. The dance marathon is coming up very soon and I know it is going to be amazing!”

After going through your treatment do you think that it made you mentally stronger?

“It has made me more appreciative of my health and puts things in perspective for me. For example if I am stressed out about an exam I need to take or a paper I need to write I sit back and say to myself “It’s okay you have been through worse” in the long run things will work out when they need to”

What advice would you give to any patients that are going through what you had to go through?

“It’s hard and it’s not the best. I remember my doctor told me that it is going to suck for a while but you will only get better and things will be good again. He said this to me the very first day I started treatment and this is still advice that I carry with me today.”

What are your plans after graduation?

“I’m hoping to become a child life specialist for a children’s hospital. I would like to work with kids that are being treated for cancer, but just working with kids in general will be great as well. It’s a long process to become a child life specialist but I am working towards it and I know that I will be able to reach that goal eventually”.

Why the focus on a career with children?

“I come from a very big family with me being the oldest grandchild, so I have a lot of younger cousins. I am used to being around younger kids and I feel like I am good at communicating with them and I love goofing around with them. Kids are also very honest. I feel that as we get older we become more guarded and less open whereas kids will be open and honest with you. I have always loved that aspect about kids and being able to help them through one of the most difficult times in their lives means a lot to me”.

What do you think is the most important to have when a child or any patient is going through treatment?

“It is very important to still try and live your normal life. Going through treatment doesn’t mean that everything stops and you have to consistently go to the hospital. Yes, most of the time you will become tired, I know I slept a lot, and you could be in pain but I was still able to do a lot of things. I was able to come back and visit my friends here for a couple weekends, I was still able to meet with friends and family. My life wasn’t put on hold, and that’s something a lot of people think when treatment starts, instead I tried to do as much as possible when I had enough energy because I wanted to live my life as much as I could.

 

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