Nothing Was Ever Going To Be The Same

An excerpt from a life reflection story documenting a young woman’s cancer journey.

Life was great. Life was grand. It was predictable, stable, and expected. I was a senior in high school and loving it. I had a great group of friends, an amazing family, went to a Catholic school, and felt at peace in my life. Of course, there was the stress of college, school work and friend drama, but that was what made life fun and eventful and what I assumed everyone experienced. It was December of 2016 when I noticed an odd bump on my leg; I thought it was a bruise and moved on to the next social event. By February 2017, it was still there, but now it looked like a red rash, and it was beginning to hurt. It wasn’t a constant pain, but it felt like a million needles were being stabbed into my leg periodically. An appointment was scheduled with my pediatrician, a few blood tests were done, nothing was found, and I was sent to the dermatologist. 

It wasn’t until April that I went to see the dermatologist, and they didn’t have much to say. They recommended a biopsy be done on the site, but we waited to schedule it until after our family vacation to Hawaii. The day after we arrived home, I woke to pain again in my leg, yet this time it was much worse. We called the dermatologist and moved the biopsy appointment to the next day. I was terrified. All I had experienced for medical procedures up to this point were blood tests and throat swabs. The results came back showing I had inflammation in my body, which was causing the rash and the pain in my leg. The dermatologist recommended I see a rheumatologist. At this point, doctors believed sarcoidosis seemed like the most likely diagnosis; I was somewhat familiar with this autoimmune disease because my mother’s dad had recently been diagnosed with it. It didn’t seem like a big deal to me: we just needed the specialists to confirm and offer me a treatment plan.

The rheumatologist couldn’t see me until June. I didn’t dwell on it too much as I continued to plan my graduation party, participated in all the senior events and walked across the stage to receive my high school diploma. This was a memorable time filled with excitement for the next stage in life that approached. Once June arrived and the appointment came, it brought more blood tests. Not unlike the firsts, they showed inflammation in my body. As a follow up, my doctor scheduled a CT scan and an appointment with a gastrointestinal doctor to determine if it was an autoimmune disease. The CT scan was denied by my health insurance not once but twice on the grounds that they didn’t believe it was medically necessary, as my only presenting symptom was leg pain. I scheduled an appointment with the GI doc. I was shocked I needed a colonoscopy at age 18. The results showed nothing was wrong with my intestines. 

I woke up the day after the colonoscopy and felt sick. I had a fever and chills, so I called the doctor like the instructions noted, but they didn’t believe my symptoms had anything to do with the procedure; they indicated it might be a virus. The week went on, and I still felt miserable. By Friday my temperature was at 103.7 degrees, and I had a terrible headache. My mom and I decided to visit the ER.

We were checked into a room, and then my memories became more fuzzy. I remember getting an IV in my hand and telling the doctor my whole story. I recall he and my dad chatting for a while in the dark because my head was pounding. We discussed how I was unable to get a CT scan, so he ordered one while I was in the ER. When the scan results came back, it showed a mass in my chest, and I remember them explaining some of the possible causes. Doctor after doctor came to see me: pediatrician, rheumatologist, pulmonologist, hospitalist and their PAs. The weekend was a blur, but I remember every day asking if I could go home. Finally, it was decided on Monday I would have a bronchoscopy to extract a small piece of the mass that was found, and then I could be discharged.

      Tuesday came and my fevers had gone down dramatically, and I was finally starting to feel good. I planned to have some friends over that night. The doctor called us that evening as the results were in from the bronchoscopy. My parents and I headed into their bedroom to listen to him on speaker phone. He made some small talk, and then told us the results indicated that I had cancer. He said something about how sorry he was to have to deliver this news, but honestly, I don’t remember much else. I know I crashed into my mom and started sobbing, thinking to myself nothing was ever going to be the same.