In order to tell my story, I have to start where all stories begin, at the beginning. My mother and father raised me in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio and I was an only child. I had a happy childhood for the most part, barring my childish tantrums when I didn’t get my way. But I never had to worry about not having a roof over my head or food in my belly. We weren’t rich, but we were comfortable. Life was good. But as it always does, the good comes with the bad. I was teased from time to time over the years, which would often send me home in tears or in a rage where I would scream into my pillow, but it was manageable until the eighth grade.
At this point in my life, I had become the ultimate target for bullies. I had glasses, curly hair and this year I got braces. I heard all of the unoriginal insults, ‘Four-Eyes’, ‘Metal-Mouth’, ‘Brillo Head’, and so on and so forth. The constant onslaught hurt, but I was managing until I started to be sexually harassed by a classmate. It never went past just comments, but the words hurt. All of a sudden, my torment had taken on a new element that I didn’t understand and without understanding, I couldn’t process it, couldn’t handle it anymore. So in the middle of eighth grade I started cutting. Small incisions on my legs, the insides of my thighs, the undersides of my arms. Never deep enough to scar, but always enough to bleed. I started wearing long sleeves and becoming socially withdrawn. Shortly after, I was diagnosed with depression and was started on an anti-depressant. But the taunting at school continued and the pills didn’t help, so the cutting continued. It was the only thing I could control when it seemed that everything was spilling out of my hands. I could control how much I cut and how often and how deep. I could even control if anyone noticed. I got really good at hiding it. I became an expert at faking emotions because I had begun to feel numb inside.
The depression and cutting continued through high school and into college, where I went away from home for the first time. I cut when I faced new situations that I was afraid of, I cut when I was tired, I cut when I was hurt, I cut when I was angry, and I cut when I was numb. In my freshman year of college, my roommates caught me cutting and called my parents. Between the parents and my roommates, I was convinced that it was time for me to get help. I had been cutting for almost seven years at this point. I found a wonderful therapist on campus that helped me slow the cutting and begin to build up my own self-esteem. The cutting didn’t stop completely that year, but it got better. I came to rely on that razor blade less and less. By the end of the school year, I had come to rely on myself enough to realize that moving back home would be my best option.
I moved home, found a new therapist, and continued dealing with the anxiety and depression without using cutting as an escape. I finally found an anti-anxiety/anti-depression medication that helped regulate my moods, and helped me deal with life a little better. I finally stopped cutting completely by the middle of my sophomore year of college. Things were finally looking up. I was hanging out with friends again, becoming more sociable, my grades were improving, and I was happy with where my path in life was taking me. Unfortunately, the medications aren’t perfect, and I started building up a tolerance for it, so my doctor and I had to increase my dosage a few times until I graduated college. During that time, my moods would spike and drop randomly, like a heartbeat. I had super highs and extreme lows. But I finally graduated with a Major in Business Administration and Management in August of 2012. The economy, as you know, has been swirling down the toilet for a while, so when I graduated I was unable to obtain a full time job in my field. I wanted to get into HR. I could only find part-time work at $9.00 an hour. I couldn’t even pay my bills on that. I finally lucked into my dream department with a customer service job, but it required me to move to Dallas, Texas.
So in February of 2013, I moved a little over 1,200 miles away from everything I had ever known to stay with my aunt and uncle for three months until I had saved up enough to get my own apartment. And on May 1, 2013, I was able to move into my own place. I was so proud of myself. Up until that point, I had had my parents help all my life whenever anything would go wrong. But this time, I had made the move, gotten the job, paid for the apartment and all of the furnishings all on my own. I paid all my own bills and didn’t have to rely on my parents for a single thing. It was both thrilling and frightening. I finally felt like a real adult. I even had health insurance of my own! I didn’t know what to do with myself!
My parents made the drive down to come to visit me in the summer of that year and brought along my four pound Yorkie-mix, Charlie to live with me. I was so happy to be independent, my parents were proud of me, and I had my dog with me. I had left my boyfriend of over three years back in Cleveland, but we were doing the long distance thing until he could move down to live with me. Life was good again. Until I began to get sick in October of 2013.
At the beginning of October I got what doctors diagnosed as a sinus infection. But this was unlike any other sinus infection I had ever had. Now, I have had asthma and allergies since birth, so I am very familiar with all kinds of respiratory infections and sinus infections. This one came with blurred vision, dizzy spells that would make my knees give out, and severe migraines. After I finished the first round of antibiotics and steroids, I went back to my doctor because I wasn’t feeling any better. I got a second round of drugs to fight the infection. At the end of this round of drugs I was still sick and I had a migraine so bad that I ended up in the Emergency Room. I got a third round of antibiotics and an CT Scan of my head where doctors said I had a really bad sinus infection. No shit, Sherlock. Finally, after seven weeks and three rounds of drugs the sinus infection cleared up, but the migraines, blurred vision and dizzy spells continued.
After the first of the new year, I was sent to see a neurologist. She ordered a spinal tap, diagnosed with me with Intracranial Hypertension, gave me medication and sent me on my way. The meds didn’t help resolve any of the symptoms and they just kept increasing in frequency and intensity. I tried talking to my neurologist, but she kept telling me the medication hadn’t kicked in yet. After five months of that nonsense, I finally went to see another neurologist that had been recommended to me by a co-worker. After another spinal tap in June that went horribly wrong and resulted in 5 trips to the emergency room in 6 days and then a three day admittance, it was determined that I did not have intracranial hypertension, but there was no known reason as to why I was having as many as 6 migraines a day. My new doctor believes that I had gotten into a migraine loop, which she got me out of during my three day stay at the hospital. My boyfriend moved in shortly thereafter to take care of me.
I could finally function, but still had the blurred vision and dizzy spells. We tried new medicines and new therapies for months, but nothing seemed to work. In October of 2014, a full year after I had begun getting sick, my boyfriend and I discovered that our air conditioning vent was completely filled with mold, because he had begun getting sick, causing him to lose his job. We got the mold cleaned out and a new air conditioning unit installed, and my boyfriend began to get better. I however began to get worse. I was getting night sweats, severe fatigue and no appetite. I dropped about ten pounds in two weeks. I went to the doctor thinking I had mononucleosis for a second time (the first being in high school) but he thought it was a sinus infection. Again. After I insisted that he do blood work for me, he called me three days later insisting I get a follow up with an oncologist as soon as possible. My platelet count was extremely elevated.
After more testing and meeting with the oncologist, it was determined that I have a Myeloproliferative Neoplasm called Essential Thrombocythemia. It is a rare blood cancer, usually occurring in women over the age of 55, that is often called a chronic form of leukemia. I was told that it is not curable, but it is treatable. Cue the depression.
I started hearing all these big words I didn’t understand and didn’t want to understand. I couldn’t function for a few days. I was like a zombie. They started me on oral chemotherapy pill that caused more problems and I was miserable. I was cranky and felt like no one could understand. I felt all alone in a room full of people. After about two month of wallowing, waiting for the chemotherapy to work, and being terrified of every new ache and pain in my body, I have decided not to let this stop me.
I am not dead. I am not dying. I have overcome a lot to get where I am today. I have accomplished a lot that I am proud of. Just because I have cancer does not mean I am any different. I have not changed. I struggled to get to where I am, and without those struggles, it wouldn’t taste quite as sweet when I get what I work for. I will continue to work for what I want. I won’t let this slow me down or hold me back. My future isn’t gone, and it doesn’t look bleak. It’s so bright, I should wear shades. My life isn’t over. It’s just starting. But with the new outlook that a cancer diagnosis gave me, that everything is beautiful, I see that I have everything to work for, everything to fight for. Cheers to the miles it took me to get here. It has been worth it.