A blog post written by fellow Salve Regina University Alumni, Lindsay Conrad.
“On March 11, 2021, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at age 23. While I have not shared many details about my cancer journey on social media, I am hoping this blog post will spread awareness and encourage readers to listen to their bodies! The most common symptoms of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma are lumps/swollen lymph nodes, night sweats, unexplained itchiness, fatigue, and sudden weight loss. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms please don’t hesitate to see your doctor!
On Saturday, February 26th, I woke up experiencing strange chest pain. I had already seen my doctor the day before for throwing my neck out, but something felt extremely different on Saturday morning. I quickly searched my symptoms on Google, which told me to seek medical care if I have chest pain accompanied by a fever. My temperature was 100.5, so I quickly grabbed my wallet and phone and rushed out the door in my pajamas without making my bed or eating breakfast (which is very out of character for me). I quickly went and got a rapid Covid test, which was negative, and then headed over to the urgent care clinic at my local doctors office. The clinic at my doctors office did not have all of the necessary equipment for cardiothoracic tests, so they insisted I go to the ER at Rhode Island Hospital by ambulance. At this point, I was extremely scared and upset. Not because I thought something was seriously wrong, but because I didn’t want to go to the emergency room alone during the pandemic. After spending several hours in the emergency room, all of my tests came back normal. My chest x-ray was clear and my EKG and chest ultrasound were perfect, my nurse continued to tell me all day that they would send me home and I’d be fine. However, while most of my blood test results came back completely normal, they noticed that my d-dimer (a protein that detects and dissolves blood clots) level was slightly elevated. At this point, they decided to do a chest CT with contrast to rule out a blood clot in my lungs. After my CT, I remember my ER doctor coming in, and I could tell even with his mask on that he was upset. He took my hand and said “I did not think I would be telling you this, but we found a mass in your chest. It could be nothing, but I really think it’s something.” This was the most devastating and terrifying moment in my life, and it will haunt me forever. I felt like I was trapped in a bad dream and couldn’t wake up. I was admitted to the hospital and luckily the doctor snuck my parents in so they could see me. After a night at Rhode Island Hospital, I was transferred to the oncology unit at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where I would spend the next five days being poked, prodded, and scanned. While at the Brigham, I underwent chest surgery to biopsy a piece of my tumor (which was much longer, complicated, and painful than expected) and finally went home the next day to recover and wait 7 days for the biopsy results. On March 11th, it was confirmed that I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and would need 6 months of ABVD chemotherapy.
The three weeks between going into the ER and starting chemo were probably the most difficult of my life. To say I was devastated was an understatement. While I never really felt angry, I felt betrayed by my body. Prior to my diagnosis, I was a completely normal 23 year old woman who led a healthy lifestyle and whose main concerns were grad school and teaching. I was so confused and shocked that I had cancer. The troubling thing is I never experienced any symptoms associated with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I was walking around teaching with a tumor in my chest for months and I had absolutely no clue. Within a matter of days my entire world was turned upside down. I love my students like they are my own children, and I was deeply
saddened at the thought of how confused and upset they would be. I ended up taking a leave of absence from teaching for the rest of the school year, but was able to power through and finish my grad school courses remotely during chemo and still graduated in May.
After making it through the diagnosis process, the treatment process was another challenge. When you think of chemotherapy, you automatically think of nausea and hair loss. However, chemo side effects are much more complicated than how they are portrayed in movies and television shows. While I did experience nausea and hair loss (at one point I was on 6 anti-nausea medications), I also experienced excruciating jaw pain, bone pain, neuropathy, vein reactions, and other rare side effects. I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone. To make things even more challenging, I had to go through the majority of chemo alone because of the pandemic, as patients were usually allowed to have multiple guests supporting them at infusions. I am so thankful to my amazing chemo nurses (shoutout to Jamie, Lana, and Stephanie) for acting as my family and friends during my 6-hour chemo infusions!
On August 20th, I had my last chemo infusion, and on September 17th I had my one-month scan and received the news that I am officially cancer free! While the 6 months of treatment felt like years, I am so thankful to finally be done and start the healing process! If you are still reading at this point, I hope my story encourages you to listen to your body and see the doctor if you feel like something is wrong. I almost didn’t go to the doctor in February, but I am so incredibly thankful I did because it ended up saving my life!”