Non-Hodgkin lymphoma survivor: 'Life is precious, and I'm living it'

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JenniferPonce415.jpgBy Jennifer Ponce

Nearly eight years ago, I rang the bell at MD Anderson, signifying the end of my stage 2, large b-cell, Non-Hodgkin lymphoma treatment.

This day was far more emotional than I ever could have anticipated. I had thought it would really be no big deal. In fact, I didn't even know the bell existed until a couple of days before my last radiation treatment.

I took a hold of that string and rang that bell with every ounce of my being while warm tears streamed down my face and onto the floor. I knew then that I had come so far since my non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis.

My non-Hodgkin lymphoma symptoms and diagnosis

It all started in January 2006. I had been suffering from an earache and cough and went to see my primary care physician. She ordered a few X-rays to see if I had pneumonia.

I didn't have pneumonia, but the X-ray results show a large mass on my left lung that appeared to be a tumor. My doctor scheduled a CT scan for that afternoon.

Once I got in my vehicle I called my husband, Keith, and asked him to call in sick to work. Telling him was probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do. He, of course, asked why, and for the first time, I started crying so hard. I don't know how he understood me.

"I have a large mass on my left lung, and I need to go for CT scans," I told him. "Can you please take me?"

Later that night, a few hours after I'd returned from getting my CT scans, my doctor called. The only thing she was able to clarify right then was that the mass was definitely a tumor.

We got the final diagnosis a few days later when the doctor called me at work. I remember being so naive that I asked, "Lymphoma, what does that mean? Is it benign?" The voice on the other end said, "No, dear, it's cancer."  

I must have been in a bit of shock because I hung up the phone, called Keith to share the news and continued to work.

That night while Keith was sleeping, I snuck out of bed and went into the kitchen. I cried alone and loud and hard I buried my face into the palms of my hands and sobbed.  

Then I picked up the phone and called MD Anderson. I left a message requesting an appointment in the Lymphoma and Myeloma Center. They called me the next morning. My appointment was scheduled.

Going to MD Anderson for non-Hodgkin lymphoma treatment

My initial appointment was overwhelming. I remember thinking how serious my oncologist, Felipe Samaniego, M.D., was. He looked like he was calculating in his head how to make my cancer go away. I knew after meeting him that I was in good hands.  

Six rounds of chemotherapy every 21 days followed by a stomach injection, numerous X-rays, CT scans, and several consultations later, we received the wonderful news: I no longer had cancer. There was no evidence of the disease (NED).  

How cancer changed me
I am not sad I had cancer. I am glad to be a survivor. Cancer did change my life. It made me more conscious about how I live. It made me slow down and appreciate all that I have around me. These are not changes that happened overnight, but they happened nonetheless.   

Life is beautiful. I am drinking it all in and savoring every little sip. Life is precious, and I am living it, baby!

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