By 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.
"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!