“My Voice” by Cassie Stewart

Cassie Stewart - 'Survivor'

December 28, 2007 will always be a strange day for me, that’s the day they found my lymphoma. I’d had bronchitis about two weeks before Christmas and even after finishing the antibiotics I didn’t feel better. Two days after Christmas my sister and I were shopping. I coughed really hard and felt something move in my chest. Not good. I called the doctor and made an appointment for the next morning. He thought it was pneumonia but sent me for a chest x-ray anyway. About an hour after the chest x-ray they called to say they saw something on the x-ray and wanted me to come back for a CT scan. I didn’t even get out of the hospital parking lot after my scan before the doctor called to say I needed to come to his office that he needed to talk to me and he couldn’t tell me over the phone. The phone call no one wants to get, I got. A few days later my Dad told me how proud he was of how well I was handling everything so far. I told him I had put it in the perspective of I’d rather it be me than one of my kids. He looked at me and said yeah but you’re my kid! Wow!

The scan showed a 10X5 cm mass in my chest (hmmm that must be what moved when I coughed) and smaller ones on most of my organs in my abdomen. The doctor said it looked like lymphoma. He went on to say to me what every other doctor I saw would say to me, if you’re going to have cancer this is the one to have because it’s highly treatable. Within two weeks, I’d had a biopsy (by that time the mass was 12X7 cm and pressing on the blood vessels in my chest), a bone marrow biopsy (very painful, I’d rather go through childbirth again), a MUGA scan, a PET scan and got so sick of being poked that I had a meltdown the day before they put my port in. My Mom said well it’s about time you let it out! She listened to me fuss and cry like moms do then told me everything was going to be fine. Exactly what I needed to hear. The next day I had my port put in and went straight from the hospital to my oncologist’s office to start R-CHOP. The doctor gave me my official diagnosis and in the fog of a huge dose of Benadryl I heard him say Stage IV Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Let the fun begin!

The first chemo seemed to go well until about 5 days later I started having pain. It kept getting worse until I ended up in the ER and was put on a morphine pump. The good news was that the chemo was breaking up the mass. The bad news was it was breaking it up too fast for my system to deal with it. My parents were there around the clock like I was 7 instead of 37. Seven days later and when I still couldn’t eat they told me if I didn’t eat I wouldn’t get out of the hospital. I ate. I hate hospitals. The day before they discharged me my aunt drove from Oklahoma to stay with me and take care of me the way she did when my uncle had cancer. I was extremely lucky and thankful for her love and help.

Altogether I had 8 rounds of R-CHOP and after 6 rounds I got the all clear, the cancer was gone! Really? Are you sure? I kept asking my PA, Andy. That was May 16, 2008. I consider that day my second birthday. The day I got my life back. My oncologist Dr. Patel, my PA Andy and my nurses are the best anyone could ever ask for. They laughed when I’d show up spunky with my ‘Cancer Sucks’ t-shirt on. My kids gave me strength and kept my spirits up. Always willing to help or just curl up with me when I didn’t feel well. My family took great care of me and my kids, always supporting me in any way that they could. People were amazed at how I kept my sense of humor through it all. Yeah well me too! I’m a very lucky girl and I was determined to kick cancer’s ass! 😉 Plus I don’t look half bad with a buzz cut! lol

Not long before I was diagnosed my marriage of 12 1/2 years ended in divorce, I had just started a new challenging job and my grandmother had passed away. It was a stressful time without the cancer. I made it through treatment and things seemed to be getting back on track until this past May when I was laid off from my job. Subsequently I put my house up for sale and moved in with my Dad to get back on my feet. It looks like the house is finally going to sell and we are supposed to close January 8. That would be the best Christmas present and the best way to start 2010. On a very positive note! So I’m hoping that is the start of good things to come. But I can’t help but be anxious until it actually comes to pass. I can’t wait to put 2009 in the books like I did 2008.

I do have to say that in the middle of all of that I found my one true love. We’ve known each other since high school and reunited in May not long before I lost my job. He has loved and supported me in a way I never thought I would have ever found. I’m also blessed in the fact that he adores my kids and they adore him. My family and friends love him as well. He brings out the best in me and never fails to make me smile. When he looks at me I feel loved and safe. That to me is priceless!

I thought going through treatment for cancer was hard and it was there’s no denying that but being a survivor can be hard as well. There are a lot of emotions and anxiety that can go along with it. The fear that the next scan won’t be clear. (I’m high risk and I have a 60% chance of relapse. It’s always in the back of my mind.) You’re not the same person you were before, your body is not the same (as I heard a doctor put it, we try to kill you without actually killing you), your mind is not the same. Nothing is the same. I guess learning to adapt to that is the key and I’m still learning.

Right now I’m going to school for Medical Billing and Coding. I finish in March and hope to find a job soon after. Getting my life back on track is my main goal for myself and my kids. Thinking positive and keeping my sense of humor like I did through treatment is vital to my well being. They are right when they say that laughter is the best medicine!