Beyond the science and statistics of cancer are remarkable patient stories of courage and spirit. The below message is cancer survivor Karin Hendricks’ story in her own words.
I was sitting at my kitchen table playing cards when I felt a lump. The lump led to a cancer diagnosis. I went through typical chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and the cancer responded very well. I had a recurrence about three months after we thought the cancer was gone, which led to more chemo, and then a stem cell transplant.
I think I’ve come up with three words that summarize my experience of having cancer and being a cancer patient. The words I’ve come up with are devastating, shameful, and personal.
Finding out that you have cancer is devastating. It is not something that I ever expected, and the fear can be a lot to deal with. Not only does the illness disrupt your life with treatment and tests and the discomfort that comes along with that, but it changes your idea of your future and what’s possible. You start to have thoughts: “I’ll never write a book, I’ll never see Italy, I’ll never play Evita or Lady Macbeth, I’ll never own a home of my own or have a successful garden, I’ll never take care of my mother in her old age.” Cancer is not something that was in my life plan.
And next, shameful. There was a real loss of identity for me. I’ve always defined myself by what I do, and for a time there, I really could not do anything. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t sing or act on stage. I didn’t have the energy to be a good friend, or a good daughter, or a good sister. I lost my physical and emotional strength which had defined me my whole life.
And lastly, personal. Everyone said, “It’s not your fault that you are sick. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is a bad luck cancer. You can’t take your cancer personally.” Well, I did. It’s true, I had no one to blame, but it was incredibly personal. I might have gotten the “bad luck” cancer, but I hit the jackpot with the team at Mission Hope Cancer Center headed by Dr. Robert Dichmann. I took it personally when Dr. Dichmann took the time to answer every single question I had on my list. I took it personally when the Marian Cancer Care Patient Advocate opened her office and her heart, helping me to feel the strength that I had lost. And the Nurse Navigator who generously shared his knowledge and experience, which made me feel so much less isolated. I took it personally when the chemo nurses heated up rice packs in the microwave to soothe my sore forearm that burned from the chemo, and my last day of ABVD chemo when my oncology nurse did the moonwalk to celebrate my milestone. And most of all, I took it personally when my oncologist Dr. Dichmann and the staff of Mission Hope Cancer Center made me believe that I WOULD write a book, visit Italy, play Evita and Lady Macbeth, own my own home and for once have a successful garden, and maybe even get to take care of my mother in her old age.
Cancer can be devastating. Cancer can be shameful. And I think that no matter what, it feels very personal. As of now, I have been cancer free for more than three years. Thank you, team, for saving my life.