A Young Brother and Sister Diagnosed with Hodgkin's in the Same Year

In March 2013, my little brother, Cameron, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. It started as a bronchitis diagnosis until his follow-up; the X-ray showed a suspicious shadow. Imagine being told you have a chest cold and discovering scattered tumors throughout your body. My brother chose to have the tumors removed through open-heart surgery. We still didn't think it was cancer, mainly because the experts told us they felt it would most likely be benign tumors.

The surgery was a long grueling 8 hours of hospital food and waiting rooms as we nervously awaited news on his progress. Once the operation was finished, the surgeon came out and told us that the tumors were cancerous. We had no history of cancer on either side of the family and didn't know anything about it other than losing our Uncle Joe a few months early in January to the disease. Our Uncle Joe wasn't blood-related. He was married to my father's sister but lived with us most of our lives.

Uncle Joe passed a few weeks after finding out he had cancer. 

After my brother began chemotherapy treatment, I flew to El Paso, Texas, where my military husband was stationed to give birth to our second child and only daughter. My husband was deployed to Afghanistan when I welcomed our beautiful newborn girl into the world on June 8, 2013. Then a few weeks after giving birth (three months after my brother's diagnosis), I received the news that I had Hodgkin's lymphoma, same cancer as my brother. Printed on a piece of copy paper were my scan results;

"There is a large anterosuperior mediastinal mass that extends around the left heart border measuring 12.3cm. A second mass adjacent to the left heart is also present, measuring 4.9cm. Within the right mediastinum, there is an enlarged lymph node measuring 3.8cm. Multiple other scattered enlarged lymph nodes are also identified in the left region…"

You know that the news isn't going to be positive when the nurse taking your information appears somber. The doctor walked in with a worried face, looked through papers, looked again, glanced over to the nurse, and then took a deep breath, "So, you have tumors..." Before she could finish, I responded, "I knew; I just knew it. I know it's cancer." She asked me if I was OK to drive home. At that moment, I was, but there was a raging battle in my mind throughout the entire drive.

I never in my wildest dreams thought this was what I would be experiencing in my 20s. The physical pain is only half the battle. Your thoughts; you must fight the most when you're told, "You have cancer." I had to reinvent my perspective on life, faith, and the legacy I wanted to leave behind. We must look at these downfalls in living in a way that no one can comprehend unless they've been down this road.

I was lucky that my little brother was diagnosed first. His experience gave me insight into the world I was about to enter. The discovery that tumors overtook my entire left region was devastating but a relief. It took six doctors to finally get my diagnosis, and if it wasn't for my brother, I wouldn't have persistently pushed for real answers.

In 2013, the direction of my life changed. I wasn't prepared for a cancer journey months after my little brother was diagnosed, but sometimes our call changes shape as our gifts evolve or the needs in our midst change. We should be ready to change with it, following the call where it leads next.

I want others to know that they are not alone. That it's OK to have an upbeat attitude during treatments, and it's also OK to temporarily lose yourself amid a traumatic experience. I knew that the rest of my life was going to change. I had to trust that this unexpected and terrifying news led me to become a better version of myself.


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