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Rare, but real

Rare, but real

Hodgkin’s lymphoma is one of the rarest cancers. With a 1/100 chance of getting this type of cancer, I was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma when I was 25.  More surprisingly, I am not the only person I know diagnosed with this form of cancer at a young age, nor the only person in my family.  My older sister received the same diagnosis I did a few years before me when she was just 23 years old. Despite being by her side as she underwent treatment, I was completely unaware of what was happening inside my body as my own symptoms started to progress.

My symptoms were minor to start, and I thought it was nothing out of the norm for a 25-year-old.  It all started with a slight cough and night sweats.  I thought the night sweats were just from my apartment being too hot and I didn’t think much of it.  This continued for a few months until I became sick one weekend.  I went to the doctor’s office thinking I just had the flu with a fever and body aches.  My doctor was unavailable, so I saw a nurse practitioner that day instead.  After describing my symptoms, she thought I might have pneumonia and asked to do a chest scan. It felt like an eternity had passed as I waited to hear the results of what I originally thought was a pretty routine scan.  

My heart sank as my doctor walked into the room, looking very distraught. I knew something was wrong. After describing my symptoms once again, he started to really question the night sweats I had been experiencing.  I started to worry even more.  He told me there was a huge mass inside my chest and that I needed to go to the hospital immediately.

He said to me, “Your life is going to be on pause for a while.” I didn’t know what to respond; I was terrified.  He tried to avoid using the word “cancer,” only using terms like “mass” or “tumor,” but I knew what he meant given my sister’s history and the concern on his face.  I went to the hospital a few hours later and spent four nights there.

After a blur of hospital visits and continuous tests, I started chemotherapy two weeks later.  My whole world changed when I received my diagnosis. I couldn’t believe I had cancer, but more shocking, the same type of rare cancer my sister had a few years back.  She told me this was going be one of the hardest things I’d ever go through. She was right.   

I greatly underestimated chemotherapy.  It was much more difficult than I ever imagined.  The physical effects on the body were awful but the mental component was something I didn’t anticipate.  You go through these cycles with chemotherapy and staying positive week after week is extremely challenging.  As soon as you start to feel a little better you are knocked back down with another treatment.  On my way to treatment I would see the highway exit sign for where I had treatment and I would start to feel nauseated just by seeing a sign.  I would dream of feeling normal and going through an average day.

My sister told me to not let this cancer or treatment control me. I still had to take charge and control of my life, which I made a point of doing throughout treatment.  When I started to lose my hair, I shaved it immediately, instead of trying to make it last as long as possible.  I went on multiple trips to visit friends and family across the country during my treatment period instead of staying at home.  I tried to fit as much into one day as possible when I wasn’t sick.  However, this became more difficult as treatment went on.

It’s unfortunate that my sister and I share this experience, but I am grateful I had someone to talk to who could relate and encourage me to continue to do the things I loved most while undergoing treatment.  It helped take some of the fear and unknown out of the process. Fortunately, my sister was just one of many great people in my support system throughout this process. I will never forget the people who reached out and helped me.  That small action of simply reaching out to someone who is enduring a struggle goes much farther than you might think.  After going through my own battle, I will always make myself available now for anyone going through something similar. 

In a strange way, life almost becomes simpler going through this experience. I was forced to take it day by day and sometimes even hour by hour. I could only think about the things that truly matter.  It put my life into perspective and forced me to understand how quickly your life can change from this horrible disease. I believe the things you face in this life are only based off what you can handle.

This blog was written by Cody Palmer, senior analyst at OppGenetix, in April 2019 after finishing his 12 chemotherapy treatments. Cody currently volunteers his marketing services to Pelotonia throughout the year. He is officially in remission now, living a healthy life and supporting cancer awareness!

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1 Comment

  1. Paul Reeder - October 23, 2019

    Heck yes, Cody, way to battle through and come out the other side to write such a thoughtful reflection. Well done, my sk8pole buddy

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