In early 2023, I carried a painful secret for five long months—a secret that would change my life forever. In January, I was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive lymphoma cancer called Primary Mediastinal Large B-Cell (PMBCL) Lymphoma. It was caught very early thanks to angels that looked out for me. The devastating loss of my dear friend Mary in 2016 and the encouragement of another friend Amy to get a CT Calcium score test in Mary’s honor, revealed a nodule on my lung. Little did I know that this seemingly insignificant finding would be the first step in uncovering a much greater battle that lay ahead.
For years, we monitored that nodule until the end of 2022 when a routine CT scan showed a rapidly expanding growth on my thymus gland—a lymphatic system gland that becomes less important after puberty. Assured by the surgeon that it was likely a benign thymoma, I underwent a Da Vinci robotic thymectomy on January 17th. This is an incredible surgery with a surgeon a few feet away from the patient using tiny instruments that move like the human hand to perform the procedure. The surgery was successful, or so I thought.
The biopsy showed lymphoma cancer. I couldn’t believe it. I learned that I had a subtype of Diffuse Large B-cell Lymphoma (DLBCL), specifically Primary Mediastinal Large B-Cell Lymphoma, a rare type that forms in the mediastinum.
My oncologist, with over 30 years of experience, congratulated me on having one of the “best cancers.” It seemed like an oxymoron, but he explained that while lymphoma is aggressive and often recurring, it also has a high chance of remission.
With a clear PET scan after the surgery, I began my chemotherapy treatment. From February 13 to May 8, I had five rounds of grueling R-CHOP chemo. It was a nightmarish roller coaster—I would have one week of hell followed by two good weeks and then it would start again. I became a shell of myself, battling pain and exhaustion, moving from one doctor’s appointment to the next in a fog. I lost my hair, gained weight, had constant headaches, developed tinnitus, and had bad thrush in my mouth. It was a dark, dark tunnel, with no end in sight. But somehow, I found the strength to keep moving forward, one step at a time, until I could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Thankfully, I managed to continue working as a Realtor throughout my cancer journey, enlisting the help of colleagues when needed. It was a challenging balancing act between my health and my business, I negotiated deals and handled paperwork, even working during infusions. My company works in both Orlando and Miami. I remember negotiating a sale in Miami over the phone while receiving my first chemotherapy in Orlando.
I kept my cancer diagnosis a secret for two reasons: my concern for my career and my aversion to pity. I didn’t want my clients to treat me differently out of sympathy, nor did I want to indulge in self-pity. By keeping my battle private, I hoped to diminish its impact on my life and maintain a semblance of normalcy.
Through this journey, I gained valuable insights into self-care and supporting loved ones through cancer. If anyone wants to contact me, please email me at [email protected]. I’m very happy to help in any way I can.
Getting Through Cancer: Tips and Advice
Stay positive. Maintaining a positive mindset is crucial when facing cancer. Use positive affirmations or mantras to counter negative thoughts. Focus on the good and keep your thoughts optimistic. “Where focus goes, energy flows.”
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Avoid unnecessary stress by not getting caught up in minor details. React to situations with calmness and perspective. Simplify your life and prioritize what truly matters. Remember that most things are not the end of the world.
Be kind to yourself. Cancer treatment may bring physical changes and challenges. Remind yourself that these changes are temporary and you will get back to yourself. Treat yourself like you would a dear friend.
Ask for help. Accept that you can’t do everything on your own. Reach out and ask for assistance when needed. Let go of the notion of perfection and embrace the support offered by others.
Avoid overdoing it. Recognize your limitations and don’t push yourself beyond what your body can handle. Overexertion can worsen side effects and lead to complications. Listen to your body.
Forgive those who don’t show up. Understand that some friends may struggle to handle the news of your diagnosis. Don’t take it personally if they retreat or don’t provide support. Instead, cherish and appreciate the friends who are fully committed to being there for you.
Join a support group. Connect with others who understand your experience by joining a support group. Online groups, like those on Facebook, can provide valuable advice, camaraderie, and a sense of belonging.
Acknowledge post-cancer distress. After treatment, you may experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or scanxiety (anxiety related to follow-up scans). Recognize these feelings as normal and allow yourself to process them.
After the battle with cancer, be grateful for your strength and resilience. Remember what you’ve been through: Live each day with gratitude, cherishing your health. Embrace the joy of every non-chemo day and celebrate the gift of life.
Supporting a Loved One Through Cancer: Tips and Advice
Stay connected. This is the most important thing you can do for your loved one. Staying in touch can provide comfort, support, and a sense of connection during their cancer journey. Whether it’s sending a text, making a call, or in-person visits, let your loved one know you are there for them in any way.
Validate their feelings. It’s important to let your loved one know it’s okay to feel angry, sad, or frustrated. Acknowledge their pain and validate their feelings, offering a safe space for them to express themselves without judgment. Sometimes, your loved one may simply need someone to listen to them without offering solutions or advice. Allow them to express their fears, frustrations, and concerns.
Ask how you can help. Each person’s cancer journey is different, and your loved one may need different types of support at different times. Ask them what they need from you—whether it’s a listening ear, advice, or someone to commiserate with. Being flexible and open to meeting their needs on their terms.
Help with childcare. If your loved one has children, offering to help with childcare can be a significant relief for them and can alleviate some of the stress they may be experiencing.
Encourage their independence. While it’s important to provide support, allow your loved one to maintain a sense of control and independence. If they feel capable of performing certain tasks, such as cleaning or cooking, let them do so, but ensure they don’t overexert themselves.
Provide nourishing meals. Bringing over a home-cooked meal or picking up a favorite dish from a local restaurant can be a thoughtful and helpful gesture. Just be mindful of dietary restrictions and avoid sugary or processed foods. The best way to handle this is to ask what they’d like you to bring.
Offer practical help. In addition to emotional support, practical help can be invaluable for someone going through cancer treatment. Offer to run errands, help with household chores, or accompany them to doctor’s appointments. This can give them more time and energy to focus on their healing.
Respect their boundaries. Everyone copes with cancer differently, and your loved one may have specific boundaries or preferences. Respect their need for privacy or solitude if they express it. Understand that they may not always be up for visitors or social activities.
Educate yourself. Take the time to educate yourself about the type of cancer your loved one is dealing with. This will help you to better understand their journey, potential side effects of treatments, and how to provide meaningful support. Make sure to rely on reputable medical resources.
Celebrate milestones. Celebrate their victories, no matter how small they may seem. Cancer is a long and difficult journey, so acknowledge their strength and resilience along the way. Celebrate the end of each round of treatment, important milestones, or simply their courage in facing each day.
Continue support after treatment. Offer ongoing support as your loved one adjusts to life after cancer. They may still have lingering physical or emotional effects and need a support system in place.
Remember, each person’s experience with cancer is unique, so it’s important to adapt your support based on your loved one’s needs and preferences. Regular communication, empathy, and genuine care can go a long way in helping your loved one through their cancer journey.