It all started in June 2016. Now I must state this fact before I go into further details. As a busy mom, I must say that pregnancy brain fog is real, especially after four children! But I remember this moment vividly as if it was yesterday. I was so excited to participate in a fashion show that featured my new collection in Los Angeles. I was even more excited when my friend Brittani and her husband could come along with my husband and I to celebrate this moment. We booked a fab AirBnB together and explored the city. We decided to take a lunch break at a popular burger joint. And it was there, at that particular moment, as I stood in line to order while entangling my necklace in between my fingers out of habit, that I felt a tiny hard lump right above my collar bone.
It was the size of a skittle. It didn't hurt at all, and it was solid, just like a skittle. If I pressed it, it would slightly shift underneath my skin, but it wouldn't move too far. I never felt it before nor even noticed it prior to this moment. It's as if something guided me straight to that specific spot. How many times have I twirled my necklace like that before? I've done it a gazillion times. And there it was out of nowhere, a lump. I mentioned it to Brittani. "Hey can you see this?", I said, hoping she's had this experience before. "See what?", she replied. I told her I can feel a small little lump. I wasn't concerned since I didn't feel any pain. I just thought it was weird."Just have it check out", she said in a nurturing way as she naturally does.
We enjoyed a good bite and I decided to call my medical go-to person, my sister-in-law Melissa, on the way back to our temporary home. "That's a lymph node", she said. "A what?" I had never heard of the term before. Maybe because English is my second language. "Are you sick? , she asked, "Those swell up when you're sick or have a virus." She always sounds so sure of herself when it comes to medical things because of her medical background. I thought about it, and I wasn't feeling sick at all. When she said, "Give it some time, if you're feeling fine, it should go down on its own", it gave me some type of comfort, and I proceeded to focus on the fashion show.
As much as I enjoyed myself, questions started to arise and occupied my mind as I returned home. "Am I sick? What could it be? What are lymph nodes? What causes them to swell up?". So I started to Google (of course) and wandered off into the most horrifying articles. Then I thought back to see if something might have happened to cause them to swell up. I remember having an allergic reaction to some oral gel from a dentist appointment a few months back (in April) that led to a full hive outbreak from head to toe. I've never had an allergic reaction before, and this one was pretty severe. It lasted about 4-5 days and went away on its own. So I assumed my lymph nodes were still fighting it off since nothing else major has happened, and would also go away on its own. Keep in mind, I hardly ever get sick, not even the slightest cold.
So I waited it out. I waited it out, just like I would wait out a common cold. Get some good juices, vitamins, and nutrition, and let your body do the rest. I've never been one who rushes to the emergency room for anything. I waited to see if it would progress, or if it would go away. And like they say, "Out of sight, Out of mind". My busy mom/entrepreneur life kept me occupied enough to forget all about it. It was easily forgettable since it was painless and not visible.
Time flies when you're having fun, and there I was now in December, the busy Holiday season. What a stressful month it was. A bad business deal along with a few good marital fights kept me up at night. Out of nowhere, the lump started to surface and grow. It became a little sore. So I made a Doctor appointment as soon as the kids were back in school.
The doctor assumed it was Lymphoma as soon as he saw it, but reassured me that he wasn't sure. "We would need to schedule a biopsy to confirm". I preferred to remain calm and stick to the fact that he wasn't sure rather than believe it could be what I didn't want, Cancer. The biopsy appointment was scheduled for another month out with an oncologist. I took the time to torture myself thoroughly with another series of questions and google searches.
Here is what I've learned so far when it comes to dealing with Cancer and all the signs and symptoms related to this illness. And again, keep in mind that I am solely speaking from my personal experience:
1. Stay away from Google! LOL. It will give you a vast range of the worst possible scenarios that more than likely will not apply to your particular case. However, it is okay to search specifics when you know exactly what you are dealing with. For example, don't research "Cancer" if you think you may have Cancer. Instead, get diagnosed and research your particular diagnosis such as, in my case, Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.
2. Listen to your gut. If you feel something is wrong, or you are unsure, get it checked out as soon as you can. I beat myself up sometimes and tell myself that I shouldn't have waited to go see a doctor. But I also believe in God's timing. And maybe, just maybe, I was used to help others figure out what NOT to do lol. So even if you don't feel any pain, like in my case, have it checked out.
3. Cancer is sporadic. My first lump took about 6 month to flare up. My second lump (under my right armpit) flared up in a few days. I felt it a few months after my diagnosis. It woke me out of my sleep. I felt a slight soreness that was tolerable but yet uncomfortable. So the tumor growth isn't always gradual.
4. During my advanced Cancer stages, I had a constant cough that would not go away. It was a dry cough, and again, painless. It wasn't a " I feel sick" or " I have a cold" kind of cough. It was more like " I just need to clear my throat" type of cough. This is usually a sign of fluid building up in your lungs as your immune system weakens. Shortness of breath was another sign.
5. The signs of FATIGUE! I recollect that at the beginning phase of my Cancer discovery, even before feeling my first lump, I was always tired. I used to think that my contact lenses are just dry, I'm sleepy, I'm tired from keeping up with the house, kids, and business demands. I had a low sex drive. I was tired all the time, for a long time. Fatigue is a great indicator of a compromised immune system, and it is one of the symptoms that can easily be overlooked.
6. Swelling in your feet and stomach. This happened later on for me, when I was on the verge of "transitioning" to "The Upper Room". Thank God I went to the hospital on time. When your organs are shutting down, poor blood circulation can cause your feet to swell. I would walk it off or put my feet up, and the swelling would go away, but it kept coming back. So do not overlook this symptom.
I recently had a great conversation with a breast cancer survivor who shared almost all these symptoms. I was shocked to hear that even though our cancers were different, some of the symptoms were the same. But everybody is different and may not encounter the same experience. I do hope that my transparency in sharing my journey will encourage you to take care of yourself and pay attention to the little signs. I also recommend that you do not freak out over every sneeze. If I haven't learned anything, I've learned to LIVE IN THE MOMENT. I enjoy life so much more now, and I try to live as stress free as possible.
I am here for you. Let me know if you have questions or concerns, or if you simply want me to be a part of your support system.