On June 9, 2011 I went to a local hospital for a routine biopsy. I’m not sure if it was because I was 18 and naïve, or because I was so oblivious to anything medical more than a stuffy nose, but I honestly thought I would be in and out in 10 minutes. When I saw the consent forms for surgery and anesthesia, my eyes filled with tears. I remember it like it was yesterday; I ran to my dad and asked in sheer panic, “I’m having SURGERY?” My parents tried to calm me down and reassure me that this was routine and it wouldn’t take too long, but coming from a girl who had never even had the flu, my anxiety was overwhelming. I continued to sob until the anesthesia kicked in, and that was that. 28 hours later I awoke in the ICU at Massachusetts General Hospital in a complete fog, after they found the tumor was pressed against my windpipe causing it to collapse.
It took a while before I realized where I was or what was happening. I must have asked my parents 20 times what time it was, where I was, and if they called Nancy to tell her I couldn’t babysit that weekend (dozing off between). I had been sedated for over a day, and coming out of that is something I still look back on today and laugh about. I remember a nurse asking if I wanted to brush my hair, where I proceeded to miss my head completely and give my cheeks a nice brush instead. When I finally came to consciousness, fear started to set in.
The doctors came in and that’s when my life turned upside-down; I had cancer. T-cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma to be exact. Once again, I don’t know if it was me being naïve or my lack of experience with something so terrible, but my biggest concern was if I was going to lose my hair. I had no idea the effects of chemotherapy, or that I would lose all of my muscle and the ability to get through my daily routine without help.
They told my parents they had to leave for the night, and if I was stable by the next day I could move up to an actual room in the hospital. My dad, knowing how scared I would be there for the first time in a hospital all alone, told the nurses he was staying. He didn’t ask- he told them. He spent the night sleeping in a chair in the corner of the room, being woken up every half hour to me freaking out about a noise from the million machines I was hooked up to. I did not sleep a wink that night. I was scared, confused, and couldn’t seem to put the pieces together or answer the question of, “Why is this happening to me?”
The next day I moved up to an actual room. I was unable to walk without help, since my legs were unbelievable weak. When my friends and family came to visit, if I was able to use a walker to walk them back to the elevators a few hundred feet away, it was a good day. I spent the next 5 days in the hospital, making my stay a grand total of 6 days. There were many sleepless nights, since I was being woken up every couple hours by nurses for my chemotherapy or my shots. A thousand thoughts ran through my mind night after night: Was I allowed to move in my sleep with the IVs in my hand? Was I going to be sick from the chemo? When can I go back home? What if I need a doctor when I’m at home, and they aren’t there at a press of a button anymore? Are my family and friends worried, because I don’t want them to be worried about me? I’m not going to die, right?
My dad stayed by my side the entire time, and my mom came back each day for the whole day. We laugh thinking back, because there was one day my dad left me. I decided I was ready to take a shower, so he went to get something to eat. He came back to about 5 or 6 nurses in my room with an oxygen tank because I blacked out and started to hyperventilate when I stepped out of the shower. Needless to say he didn’t leave my room again unless someone else was with me.
It took months to gain my strength back. I barely left my bed because I was so frustrated. My parents had to beg me to walk down the hallway, or to the mailbox, just to get my strength back. Something so simple was so exhausting for me. One day I was home alone and dropped my bowl of spaghetti on the floor. I bent down to pick it up, and I was unable to get back up because I didn’t have the strength in my legs. I sat on the floor and cried (both because I was stuck, and because I wasted perfectly good food).
Despite the challenges faced in the first 6 months of treatment, I wouldn’t change one second of it. It has made me stronger than I ever thought possible. Who I am today is a far better version of myself than I ever was. I am happier. I am more grateful. I am more empathetic and compassionate. I am stronger.
Don’t let cancer take away your freedom. Fight with everything you have, and become better because of it. Cancer is a terrible and devastating thing, but it doesn’t have to be all negative. Overcoming something that makes you so weak is the best feeling in the world. I would not change a thing. Cancer made me who I am today- and who I am today is fearless and strong.
-Written by Kim Dippo. 2013 York Honored Hero, Light The Night Walk participant, college junior, and T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma Survivor.