“My Voice” by Francesca Giessmann

Francesca Giessmann - 'Survivor'

I was young.. on the top of the world.  Hard work had payed off and I had just started a thriving consulting business.  My 3 year old son, out of diapers, was turning into this incredible little creature that I wanted to get to know and spend more time with.  My beloved husband by my side.  I was strong, I was healthy, life was so good…


March 21st 2007, a stomach ache.. stress??? maybe… a doctors appointment for next day.. stomach pain did not want to wait.. a trip to the ER…I never in a million years would have thought that that trip would forever change my life.

How sick was I? blood work… wait… chest X-RAY… wait.. saw the faces of the ER doctors change… HOLD ON! Is this happening to me? I am the one who TAKES people to the ER … I am the strong one… I am ALWAYS the strong one….

From a chest X-ray.. to a scan.. .Do I really have to drink that???? … a  large mass.. WAIIITTTTTTTT!!!! you have the wrong person…. I don’t smoke, basically do not drink.. I work out. I just turned 34. It is just a stomach ache. I bike… I actually met my husband on a bike ride from Boston to NY… .. I am bodacious… I am strong….I am a mother …  I AM NOT sick….

– A mass?
– What?
– A large mass.. . pressing on your right lung, which has collapsed.
What? I just ran 5 K yesterday PLUS did a Kickboxing class.
– Impossible! Who is here with you?
– My husband will be here as soon as he takes Leo to day care.

A needle biopsy?

5 days.. tic tac tic tac..I never went back home..
On March 28th … about 11 am…

– It is not lung cancer !
– I told you… I am not sick… Great!  when can I go home?
It is Non Hodgkins Lymphoma stage IV… very aggressive. .we start chemo tomorrow…
My healthy lifestyle was actually masking the pain that I should have been feeling , walking around with one functioning lung and a 13 cm mass pressing on the other.


Oh..what a bad dream! You wont believe it.. I dreamed that I had cancer.. Me? Cancer? no way ..weird dream….

I woke up and I was at the same place.. with the same doctor… I was not dreaming…

I had not seen my son in 6 days… will I ever see him again?

I need to shave my head… Will I die? How long do I have ? What the &^% is Lymphoma?

– Mammy? what happened to your hair?
– Oh baby.. I was hot and I needed a hair cut.
– You look cute!

The journey really begins there… finding the strength in me to keep going.. session after session….

Chemo was brutal, the first few sessions I was able to keep going but half way through it.. I hit rock bottom… I began having the worst headaches .. violently getting sick… I couldn’t walk..I gained a million pounds…moth sores.. butt sores… my hormones got crazy… I didn’t feel like a woman…
Does one have sex during chemo? Does one find the mojo deep inside?  My eyebrows going .. .I was officially the face of Cancer…

I often worried that if I died my son would have no memories of me.. he was so young.. which now I count as a blessing because he doest remember much ( or so I like to think!) After 6 month I was NED but in a weird way the 1st year of survivorship was the hardest one…. fully grasping what had happened… re-evaluating everything…. being afraid… I was never afraid before… I developed several blood clotting complications from chemo… I was a mess!  Was I the same person? it will come back.. and then I will go quickly….

marriage? How does a marriage survive this battle? One day at the time… with love, understanding, and the plain acceptance that it needs work to find this new normal.  Tomorrow is truly promised to no one.  We all have choices. We chose to work on it.  It is worth it.

I had to learn that I am not invincible as I had always believed to be… but love and hope ARE invincible…. on March 21 2010.. my exact 3 years anniversary of that trip to the ER.. I will join The Stupid Cancer Team and run the NYC half marathon.  That is how I choose to live like a survivor…  Doing all the things that cancer tried to take away from me… I celebrate being alive.. Survivor Style!

with love