“My Voice” by Dawn Edens

Dawn Edens - 'Survivor'

My name is Dawn Edens and I AM a CANCER SURVIVOR! I am a crazy, sexy cancer goddess.  I survived stage III Diffused Large B Cell Lymphoma (Non Hodgkins).   I just turned 40 and am a single mom of an 11 year old son, soon to be married in April 2010.  I live in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

My cancer journey began February 22, 2008.   I had decided to just bite the bullet and have my annual “yucky” exam.   I had been notorious in the past for putting off this appointment.  I can tell you that I am alive today because I didn’t do that this time.   Everything went well until my doctor asks me how long I had the mass on my left breast (it was pretty large).  I honestly didn’t even know I had it, to tell you the truth.   She scheduled me for a mammogram for the following Monday.   Let me just say…it hurts like hell!!  I received the results from the technician…..they wanted a biopsy……so the next day I was scheduled for an ultrasound biopsy.  Again…..a PAINFUL procedure.  I had to wait 10 days for results.  It was the longest 10 days in my entire life.   When I received the results, it was March 6th.   I was told that they sought out second and third opinions on the readings to be sure what it was…….Diffused Large B Cell Lymphoma.   The doctors were a little baffled as to why it appeared in my breast…because lymphoma shows up in the lymph nodes.  I was in complete and utter shock.  I barely knew what lymphoma was…….a little searching on the internet and I had completely freaked myself out and I hadn’t even seen an oncologist yet!

I had my first appointment with my oncologist a week later.  It was a whirlwind of information, meeting with a social worker and finding out about financial aid.  When the oncologist came in he cut right to the chase.   I had a VERY AGGRESSIVE cancer.   He wanted me to have a CT scan to see if it had spread.  At that moment I was only stage I.    I was devastated when we got the results of the scan.  I had lymphoma in my liver and my spleen as well.  In an instant…I was boosted to stage III.  The next test I had to go through was a bone marrow test.   If lymphoma showed up here, I was toast and would be elevated to stage IV.   OH MY GOD WHAT A PAINFUL TEST!  Luckily, the test was clean.   My doctor informed me that because my cancer was so aggressive, if I didn’t start chemo within the next two weeks, I could be dead within the next two months.  He was only giving me an 90% chance of beating it and then it wasn’t a cure.  The beast could come back.   If it came back within the first year, it would be very bad.

My brain was screaming.   How could this possibly happen?  I had just left a violent alcoholic two years earlier and moved myself and my son 1800 miles away to start a new life. This is NOT what I had in mind for a new life!!  What would happen to my son?   There was no way I was going to believe or let that diagnosis beat me.  I was scared as hell but was going to fight and I was going to live.

My doctor scheduled me for chemo education and a surgery for a port to be placed in my chest.  I ended up starting my chemo regimen on March 28, 2008.  My doctor said I was to have 6 straight months of  R-CHOP chemo (one day a week).  In addition to that, I was receiving Rituxan every four weeks.

I purchased a book called Beating Cancer with Nutrition.  With this book, I changed my diet, and I took a virtual cornucopia of supplements to offset the effects of the chemo.   I only suffered 3 side effects of the chemo, (fatigue, hair loss and tingly arms).   I think the most devastating part, was the loss of my hair. When it started to fall out really badly,  I shaved my head and found that Sinead O’Connor had nothing on me.  Bald is sexy baby! (I NEVER wore a wig when I was going through chemo).  On the days that I did not have chemo, I was working 9 hours a day and walking 4 miles a day (2 miles at a time) I even did a 2 mile walk on my chemo day as well!   A warrior takes her health into her own hands.

About halfway through my chemo, my doctor decides to “go commando” on my cancer.  He wanted to target the lymphoma in my liver because the mass was rather large and was shrinking, but very slowly.  He had been doing research on this chemo drug called Etoposide.  The downside of this for me was that it needed to be taken three days in a row. With this new drug added, I was getting chemo 1 – 3 times per week, EVERY WEEK!  It was a brutal regimen, but if it got rid of the beast inside me then I was going for it.  I even spent my 39th birthday sitting in a chemo chair.  But it all paid off.   I had a PET scan August 24, 2008.  On the 25th, I was declared CANCER FREE! My doctor said there was not one speck of cancer in my body, but he wanted me to finish the last month of my chemo regimen.   (That was the longest month in my entire life!!)

I was ecstatic!  I had survived!  I had beaten the beast in 5 months!   Survivor had become every fiber of my being.  It meant that I had another chance at life.  It means that I have a chance to help others who are going through what I went through.  As of January 2010, I am now 16 months cancer free.   I am almost two years cancer free from my initial diagnosis in March of 2008.   I am getting married in April to the man who helped me through my darkest hours and helped make me stronger.  If my next scan is clean (March 28)  I  will be clearing the last hurdle and will FINALLY be able to get my port removed!

I am now a proud cancer warrior.  I have fought and beaten my toughest opponent.  What does being a survivor mean to me? It means that I wake up on more day,   I get up and live my life to the fullest.  I have another day to enjoy my life, my family and friends.  It’s another day to realize the strength that I never knew that I had.   I have another day to watch my son grow and thrive.  It’s another day to enjoy life with my soon to be husband and my best friend. I don’t think I could have made it through without him!  It’s another day to be with my family and friends.

I will be the first to admit that I get really nervous and turned upside down every three months when I have to have my checkup and PETscan.   There is this part of you that is terrified that the cancer will come back.   You try and put up a brave and tough front but you are cringing on the inside.

Based on this whole ordeal, the best advice I can give anyone is to never put off going to the doctor.  You never know what you are going to find.   I am living proof and a survivor because of it.