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Melissa’s Story

My name is Melissa Meehan Baldwin and I HAD cancer.
I was diagnosed on June 9, 2008, the day before my 27th birthday.

I had Stage 2A Hodgkin's Lymphoma of the Nodular Sclerosing type.

I completed six months of chemotherapy and two months of radiation.

On May 29, 2009 I was declared CANCER-FREE!!!

I woke up one morning with a stiff neck and I went to a walk-in clinic. While I was there, the nurse grew very concerned. She pointed to my neck and said, “Your thyroid is very large. You need to have an ultrasound. You might have a goiter.” I thought, “Oh, that doesn’t sound very pretty.”
I had the ultrasound done and I’ll never forget the look on the woman’s face. I asked her if everything is okay, she said: "You have to wait for the people to read the ultrasound to get back to you.”
They immediately called me with the results, “This looks suspicious. Perhaps you have thyroid cancer. We need to do a biopsy." I actually didn’t worry about it because many people have a goiter and they never know it. Ninety percent of all of the goiters are benign growths.
I got the biopsy results on the day before my 27th birthday, “we think you have thyroid cancer."
The revelation was a dark cloud. The doctors were so concerned they had already scheduled an appointment with a surgeon.
The moment I heard the word, “cancer” from my doctor’s lips, my whole body was enveloped with fear. I felt this hot wave rush over me. I couldn’t process all the information. The doctors were talking and all I heard was, “blah, blah, cancer, blah, surgery...”
I was upset because I had been planning my Cape Cod wedding in September for two years. Then I find out I have to have major surgery right before the wedding.
When I was first diagnosed, I was so upset that I was physically ill. I thought I had the flu. I had a fever, chills. I was throwing up. I made myself sick because I was so upset. I thought, “Did I get food poisoning?” No, I was in shock. I couldn’t believe it. I’m 27-years-old, how could this be happening? I’m healthy, I’m vibrant, I have energy. I’m a lobbyist. I fight global warming. I can’t have cancer.
When my surgeon Dr. Requena examined me he said, “I can’t feel the bottom of this. It feels to me like it might go down into your chest.” Again, I’m paralyzed with fear. Is something else wrong? How can it get any worse than this? He said, “I need an MRI.” Getting the results of my MRI was probably the darkest moment of my life. Dr. Requena had this look on his face – a look of, “I’m so sorry.” Here I just thought I had thyroid cancer, no big deal, I don’t need chemotherapy, I don’t need radiation, just a routine surgery. Then they show me these pictures. There were all these tumors, these abnormal shapes in my chest – massive shapes! They were pushing up against my aorta, my lungs, and my whole chest. The doctor tells me, “I think you have lymphoma.”
It’s almost more than anyone can bare to get that news. I never knew. I feel great. I don’t have any of the classic symptoms of Lymphoma. I had no idea I had these tumors in my body. I’m thinking, “Oh my God, what’s going to happen to me?” Dr. Requena said, “I need to go in there and get a tissue sample to see what you have.”
I had biopsy surgery on my mother’s 50th birthday, June 24, 2008. I remember waking up from the surgery and the doctor leaned over me and said, “You don’t have thyroid cancer, you have lymphoma, we need to figure out what kind of chemotherapy you need.”
It’s like a downward spiraling staircase. I’ve gone from “Oh what a bummer I have a goiter, isn’t that an ugly word;” to “I hope I don’t have the surgery before the wedding because I would hate to have a scar,” to “Oh-my-gosh my whole life is going to have to be put on hold. I have cancer? I need chemotherapy? How am I going to be able to keep my job? What am I going to do??"
I have two main goals. One is to stay active in the fight against global warming, the other is to beat cancer.
It puts things in perspective. Before, the wedding was so important and such a big deal. Now, it’s a wedding and it is important but it’s just a day.
My friend Susan Glickman helped me understand that. Young women are taught to look forward to their wedding your whole life, especially if you’re like me, a real girly-girl. You dream about Prince Charming on his white horse. But Susan told me, “you’ve got it. You’ve got Prince Charming already. The wedding is just a day. You’ve got what matters. You’ve got love.” And she’s right.
Ever since she said that, I’ve realized how lucky I am. There are people who go their whole lives and never find love. I keep reminding myself of all the things I have to be grateful for.
I’m okay now because I’ve had that period where I’ve been upset and I’ve gotten through that. You can be upset and go into your room, curl up into a ball and never come out, but that’s not going to do me any good, right? I have to just keep living. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’m going to do it.
I’m devastated, but I’m determined.