My life has been myriad ups, downs, circles, triangles, squares, and rectangles. I have to laugh when I think about the journey I have traveled. But this article is about being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Parkinson’s. The other parts I will write about later on.
I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma July 1, 1998 at the age of fifty-five. I was in shock, despair, and bewildered. My mother had died of breast cancer at the age of fifty-seven, so I was sure I was going to die also. I was also sure that if I could live past fifty-seven, I would be ok. I went through treatment, lost my hair, lost hearing in my left ear; my hair grew back, but I did not regain the hearing in my one ear. I did not wear wigs; I only wore hats, scarves, or just plain bald. I shaved my head the day after I noticed my hair coming out. I was not going to watch it be done to me; I was going to do it to myself. I had to take control of something. I didn’t like the feeling of being helpless. My husband had taken a layoff from his job at Barbee Mill in Renton, since they were in the early stages of shutting the operation down. He was in school full time and on unemployment. I had just started a beauty shop in an Assisted Living Community about five weeks before the diagnosis. We hadn’t had to pay for health insurance premiums as Barbee Mill paid that for us. Well, of course, we had to have insurance, so we went on the Cobra Plan and what a shock that was. How do you come up with almost $500 a month when I worked part time, he was on unemployment and going to school? Plus the fact that I was facing surgery on my neck to remove the tumor for an extensive biopsy. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to work during treatment. We had way too many questions and very few answers.
When the diagnosis came, the doctor explained the particulars then asked me if I had any questions. I had no idea what she was talking about so I didn’t know what to ask. I found out that I was stage 3b, and the cancer was in other parts of my body and one of the tumors was very large, about the size of a large baseball, behind my colon and in front of my spine. The one tumor they took out of my neck had been lying on my jugular vein and was fully encapsulated. Which means that it hadn’t attached itself to my vein yet. For that, I was completely grateful. The other two small ones that had started lifted right out with the larger one. I was grateful for that also. Six treatments of CVP and I was in remission. I continued to work doing hair for the older citizens and loved every minute of it. They made me laugh, I made them laugh, and it was therapeutic for both sides. I was able to focus on them and they made fun of my bald head and it made a difficult time much easier with a lot of laughter. I was in remission for five years before I relapsed. But that is another story. I lived past the fifty-seven year dreaded time line and will be sixty-five next year.
Life isn’t about whether you go through rough times or not. I am not afraid to live and I am not afraid to die. I want to live in whatever capacity my body is experiencing now. It’s how you handle the situations. No one is promised tomorrow. I decided that I could walk outside across the street and get hit by a car just as easy as getting a disease. I get down and roll on the floor with my grandchildren. We sing and dance together. When I am taking care of them, the tickle bugs come visiting when we wake up in the morning. I try to never let the children go to school without a smile on their face. My five year old granddaughter, Madeline, tells me that I am fun to wake up with in the morning. I love hearing that. Two year old JJ wakes up and comes out of his bedroom running into my arms and gives me hugs and kisses. He calls me “Mamo.” Where did that come from? Who knows, but I love it! LOL!