Lymphoma: My worst and best experience

Linda HennesseyFor many years we’ve recognised the importance of offering ongoing support for patients and families long after treatment finishes.

In fact, supporting blood cancer survivors became such an important part of our work we funded survivorship research in partnership with the International Program of Psycho-Social Health Research (IPP-SHR) that explored how blood cancer patients can best be supported following treatment

Here Linda Hennessey gives an honest account of her experience following lymphoma treatment »

Cancer free? Hell yeah!

Remission. It’s a funny thing. A little over a year ago, the idea of being in remission was exciting! Cancer free? Hell yeah! However, it’s not quite like that.

First, there’s relief. It washes over you. Wow. I did it. I actually did. I beat cancer. I survived six rounds of chemo; 18 sessions of radiation; six sessions of total body irradiation; high, intense, soul crushing chemo; and a bone marrow transplant. Side effects you’ve never heard of.

Preparing a Will at 23 because you’re afraid that at any moment the clot in your heart from your PICC line might dislodge and kill you. Waking up in ICU, shocked and confused. Not understanding what has happened and to be told that you nearly died. You nearly didn’t wake up because your lungs filled with blood. The treatment that was needed to save you, nearly killed you, without the chance of a goodbye.

That’s what still scares me. That’s what sticks with you long after.

Remission: I fought hard for this. If I knew what I was in for in the beginning a part of me wonders if I’d run screaming from the hospital. Another part knows we are all capable of so very much more than we ever thought possible.

Is that headache a tumour?

After that short moment of relief, comes that tightening in your stomach – fear. How safe am I really? Is that breast a bit bigger than the other? Is that headache a tumour? What if it comes back? Or when will it come back? No one can say. Some do, some don’t.

I take comfort in the fact I have the best possible chance of staying in remission. I took a risk for a second chance at life; the best chance. I didn’t have a choice, and for that I’m somewhat angry.

I was 23 years old! Why me? I never had a chance. Lymphoma doesn’t discriminate – young, old, black, white, gay, straight. It doesn’t matter.

I was a nurse. I helped people every day. I tried to make a difference. Part of me felt betrayed. Where was my good karma? I wasn’t supposed to be the patient. I was a nurse, but it didn’t matter. Why did I get cancer when others didn’t? Why did I survive when others didn’t? I’d like to think it was my attitude, that I was tough. But the truth is, sometimes it doesn’t matter.

One of the most positive people I ever met died. She was a good person, tough. But it didn’t matter.

Cancer is a horrible curse

Cancer is not a blessing. It’s a horrible curse. It took my health, my time, my fertility, but mostly, it took away my carefree life. I didn’t need to get cancer to appreciate life. Before I was diagnosed, I’d already skydived twice. I’d travelled, and planned to travel more. I had a university degree, a black belt in karate, trained hard and fought in a boxing match (and won!). I’d surfed (badly), been zorbing, parasailing, paragliding, got my motorcycle license.

I never needed my second chance at life. I was making the best of it the first time round.

I am not grateful. I am angry. And that’s ok. I have a right to be. We all do. I strongly believe it’s ok to feel anger. Cancer is an emotional roller coaster. We shouldn’t fight what we feel. Anger is just the stage I’m currently in, but I won’t let it consume me.

The worst and best experience

If I think just a little harder though, I can see the positives: the overwhelming support, crying from all the love I was shown, the moment my girlfriend’s conservative Vietnamese parents brought food to me in hospital and cried for me. The moment my own parents, who previously weren’t ready for my partner to stay over, suggested she move in as I would need her support.

Those little moments you never forget, like going outside for the first time in weeks and lying in the sun on the lush grass. Just being thankful to be able to sit up, walk and eat. You can never truly appreciate these things until they’ve been taken away.

Cancer has been a journey I’ll never forget. The shortest and yet the longest year of my life. The worst and best experience in some ways. I’m certainly not grateful for cancer, but if I had to be grateful for anything, it’s that I know now how truly loved I am. And that is a blessing.

Linda is one of the #31Aussies diagnosed with a blood cancer each day. We were lucky enough to be able to feature her incredibly honest account on the front page of our Lymphoma News publication.  

Subscribe to Lymphoma News below and we’ll send it straight to your inbox. And don’t forget to share this page to help raise awareness about the #31Aussies.

Share this page