On Tuesday December 22nd, I met with Dr. Alberto de Hoyos, an oncological surgeon at Northwestern Hospital who helped better explain my initial diagnosis. I did not realize that that Dr. de Hoyos' office was located on the 21st floor which is the home to the Lurie Cancer Center. When I got off the elevator and saw the large sign on the wall it felt as if someone was screaming "Welcome to Cancer!"I found myself overcome with grief as the reality of my illness started to sink in.
I saw my parents in the waiting room and I became incredibly tearful. All of us were desperately searching for answers and the wait was emotionally draining.
We eventually met with Dr. de Hoyos and his team of residents. I was examined by Dr. K who felt an enlarged lymph node in my neck ( a node I had actually felt the day I started feeling pain in my back.) Dr. K was exceptionally bright, thorough and surprisingly hopeful. She told me about her work in Bolivia and told me that when I got passed this disease I would have to make a trip there.
This was the first time in 24 hours that I had really thought about life after Cancer.
Dr. De Hoyos reviewed my CT scan and told me that the scans confirmed that I have Lymphoma. He said based on my symptoms, age, and presentation he believed that there was a 90% chance that I had Hodkins Lymphoma, a disease that typically affects otherwise healthy 18-40 year olds. He couldn't confirm this diagnosis until a biopsy was conducted but based on all the facts he had this was his initial diagnosis.
I was relieved to hear his initial diagnosis because I had read earlier that Hodgkins is a highly curable Cancer. The truth is that if you are going to get Cancer, this is the type of Cancer you want to get. Young people are often very responsive to Chemotherapy and Radiation and they end up responding quickly to treatments. I also was relieved to finally have a diagnosis for all the symptoms I had been feeling recently. Prior to my pinched nerve I had been getting sick a lot. I had what seemed like the flu for two weeks, and prior to that had been seeing a doctor nearly once a month for six months for what felt like flu-like symptoms. Prior to the flu, in February, I was hospitalized for what they believed was Viral Meningitis. Other than when I suffered from Gallbladder disease, I hadn't remembered a time I had been so riddled with illness. My night-sweats, fever, unexpected weight loss and headaches were summed up with this diagnosis.
My surgery was scheduled for January 3rd when Dr. De Hoyos returned from vacation. He reviewed 2 surgical procedures that could occur the day of. Either were going to make an incision in my neck and remove part of the lymp node they were able to feel and access or they would make an incision in my throat and use a scope to remove a tumor in my chest near my heart and lungs. Dr. De Hoyos also mentioned that they may also need to extract bone marrow to be sure that the cancer has not entered into my bones. It was unclear as to whether he was going to actually perform this procedure on January 3rd.
After explaining the surgery he ordered a Pet Scan which would determine the staging of my Cancer.
Once we left Dr. De Hoyos office, Marc and my parents felt relieved. I felt overwhelmed. It was too much information and I wanted it to stop. In some ways I felt that I was on a very fast train, and the rest of the world around me was moving in slow motion.
After returning home, I had a good cry and felt a lot better. I knew I was in good hands and that we were finally on the way to getting answers and getting to the bottom of this.