In 2022, I was diagnosed with cancer at 23 years old. Here’s what I’ve learned since.
September of 2022, at 23 years old, I was experiencing difficulty breathing and feeling under the weather, which landed me in the emergency room. I had recently been on a bachelorette trip to Vegas which lead me to assume I may have caught an illness considering my flu-like symptoms.
Sure enough, I was diagnosed with acute pneumonia, but little did I know that was not the only diagnoses coming my way. I was experiencing night sweats and swollen lymph nodes, and a 5-cm mass pushing on my bronchial tubes was seen on a CT scan, which lead doctors to perform a biopsy on a lymph node in my neck as well as my bone marrow a few days later.
Two days later the results came back and I was diagnosed with anaplastic large T-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (ALCL) that was ALK positive. This diagnosis was hard to process as I was then informed that less than 2% of all lymphoma diagnoses are my specific subtype, 1% in females. The PET scan I had immediately after my diagnoses showed a second, 4-cm mass in my pelvic region, as well as countless cancerous lymph nodes throughout my neck, chest and stomach, which determined that my disease was stage 4 and needed to begin treatment immediately.
I received my first treatment in the hospital through a PICC line and was admitted for a total of 10 days. Just one day after my first round of chemo, my breathing was starting to improve, and I was able to be taken off of oxygen in only three days. I could not walk to the bathroom without losing my breath when I was admitted to the hospital, and I was now able to do it with minimal struggle.
I had to endure seven rounds of a treatment regimen called R-CHOP chemo every three weeks, my first round being only two days after my diagnosis. It was difficult to start such an intense treatment before getting the chance to even process the fact that I would be spending multiple holidays and my birthday undergoing chemotherapy and that I am very, very sick. I had to receive white blood cell boosters with my treatments as well as weekly bloodwork.
After my second treatment, I began to lose my hair and was bald by the time I reached my third treatment. During this period, my town was also hit by hurricane Ian, a category 5 hurricane which left me with no electricity for two weeks, but thankfully I was safe from the storm after receiving a nearly direct hit. I cried a lot of tears, had a lot of bedridden days, and even was hospitalized twice for pulmonary embolisms caused by my chemo.
After my fourth chemo treatment I had a clear PET scan, which was the best news to receive around the holidays, although I still had three more treatments to endure. My chemo left me with very little energy, but I kept reminding myself how hard my body is working every second to fight these cancer cells.
Throughout my cancer journey, I tried my hardest to keep my spirits high and feel confident that this cancer will never define me, no matter how difficult this journey may be. I have made it a priority of mine to share the symptoms and warning signs of blood cancer as well as offer support for anyone also going through this battle.
Cancer never even crossed my mind being a seemingly healthy woman in my 20s. Before my diagnoses I noticed that I was catching colds and ear infections quite often which raised a red flag. I also experienced itchy skin, especially after a shower which I never thought much about. I was previously diagnosed with IBS which is what I assumed caused occasional stomach pain and acid reflux. Another huge symptom I experienced was extreme fatigue. My body was giving me all these signs that something was off, something I should’ve paid closer attention to, and I am thankful that I went on that trip to Vegas, as it potentially saved my life by resulting in my going to the emergency room when I did.
The most important advice I was ever given about my cancer journey is to take it one day at a time. You are going to have bad days while going through such an intense treatment, and it is important to find the light at the end of the tunnel each and every day.
Since my diagnoses, I have adopted a healthier lifestyle, eating mostly plant-based proteins and fresh fruits and vegetables as well as taking daily essential vitamins and supplements to make sure my body is getting all the nutrients it needs to thrive. I finished my seventh round of chemo and am healthiest I have ever felt. Cancer has taught me that life is short, so you may as well do what makes you happy and make each day a beautiful day to be alive.
Written by Bryana Tanner for CURE Today ~ May 12, 2023