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by Patricia Hernandez
Of the many words I have heard over my lifetime, these were the least expected and the most impactful. In the summer of 2002, my partner Kelley and I were discussing plans to expand our family and my new career move. We were excited that our lives were about to change; we had no idea.
I reluctantly visited my primary care physician because of a rash on my arms. The lack of successful treatment with steroids led to a second visit where my physician seemed less concerned about my rash, and more worried about my small nagging cough. Like many with seemingly innocuous symptoms, I attributed it to working long hours, too little sleep and self care, or possibly a cold. The doctor recommended taking an X-ray. Forty-five minutes later, he attached the film to a lightbox on the wall. And there, in the center of my chest, was a large white mass. The doctor made only general comments and sent me off without a diagnosis to a specialist. In my heart, I felt something was very wrong. I left his office, visibly shaking and confused; tears falling only moments later. There were no answers.
We came up empty after a visit with the specialist, and I was referred to a surgeon to address the lump that had formed on the side of my neck. He used a word that made my stomach lurch and tears come to my eyes-“oncologist”. Kelley asked me what an oncologist was and in a very shaky voice, I replied “a cancer doctor.” I underwent a biopsy on the lump in my neck a few weeks later.
In May, while driving to work, a colleague of the surgeon called and asked me to pull off to the side of the road. My heart sank. My hands started shaking as I held on to my cell phone. The words sounded so matter of fact, “You have cancer.” My biopsy showed Stage II Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
I had cancer? What about our baby? What about my work? My cancer diagnosis led to a quick passage through the stages of grief. I was in denial, followed quickly by anger, depression and ultimately acceptance. I had cancer. The surgeon referred me to a woman who would ultimately save my life, Dr. Jayanthi Srinivasiah or Dr. “Jay”. Dr. Jay was able to tell me what was going on with clarity, and state with confidence that there was a cure. After six months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation, I was cancer free. Eleven years later, I am a cancer survivor and considered cured!
What did I learn from my cancer journey?
I came to believe in my inner strength, even after I was tested time and time again. I came to understand that I am my best advocate. Finally, I recognized that without support, I likely would not have survived. My friends and family were with me during the biggest challenges, and are still with me to celebrate the best times. My life with Kelley did change forever. We learned to value each other and to be grateful for every day. A few years later, the best gift of our lives arrived when our beautiful son was born. We realize the true miracle that he is in our lives! He reminds me of the importance of hope. And truly, hope is something we can give to anyone facing their most difficult moments.
Where to start if your child has cancer?
Tricia Hernandez is a Patient Access Operations Manager at The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. She has worked with children for over 15 years in both community care settings and as a child care provider. As a Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Team in Training participant for the past six years, she has completed many endurance events including marathons, triathlons and a century bicycle ride to raise awareness and funds for blood cancers and treatment. She lives in Avondale Estates, Georgia with her wife and son.