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My journey started on March 13th when I went to the doctor for what I thought was possible bronchitis or pneumonia. I had a cold which had been lingering since the beginning of the year and really hadn't felt well since the beginning of February. I finally went in when I had pains in my lungs when inhaling. I underwent a chest x-ray and the doctor explained my chest x-ray wasn't typical for pneumonia but she was going to start me on antibiotics anyway. My chest x-ray was also read by a radiologist who saw fullness in the right hilar region of my lungs and suggested a follow up x-ray two weeks later.
On March 27th I went in for the follow up chest x-ray. The same fullness was found in the right hilar region so I was scheduled for a CT of my chest area on March 29th. The chest CT showed lymphadenopathy (swollen lymph nodes) in my neck, chest, liver, and abdomen with lymphoma being the likely reason. I underwent a fine needle/core biopsy on April 5th which unfortunately came back as "non-diagnostic" which meant they were not able to tell from the cells extracted whether I had lymphoma or not.
On April 12th I met with Dr. Ammar Alzoubi at Roger Maris Cancer Center. We discussed the CT findings and possibility of lymphoma. Dr. Alzoubi suggested waiting three months and repeating the chest CT as lymphoma can remain stagnant for some time before needing to be treated. I was not comfortable waiting that long. We compromised on doing blood tests that day and then depending on the results we would either take action right away or wait 6 weeks to repeat the chest CT. I am so glad we did the blood tests as the results showed major inflammation in my body, increased white blood cells, and that I was anemic. Dr. Alzoubi scheduled an excisional biopsy for April 16th which confirmed the diagnosis of Nodular Sclerosis Classical Hodgkin's Lymphoma which is the most common sub-type of Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
The following week was a whirlwind of tests and the start of Chemotherapy. I underwent a MUGA scan of my heart which was normal, a Pulmonary Function Test which showed some decrease in the way my body diffuses gases throughout my body, and a PET scan which showed cancer in the lymph nodes in my neck, chest, liver, spleen, upper abdomen, pelvis, and femurs which meant my bone marrow was likely involved as well. Because of the spleen involvement and bone marrow involvement I am considered Stage IV. Dr. Alzoubi and I went over the International Prognostic Scoring System (IPSS) and the only risk factor that I have is the Stage IV diagnosis, therefore Dr. Alzoubi said my 5-year prognosis is 75-80%. He also told me that is the last time we will discuss that as our focus is now on treating the cancer and getting me into remission.
I had my first ABVD chemotherapy infusion on April 26th. It was a very long and overwhelming day starting with Chemo Class at 7:45, meeting with Dr. Alzoubi at 8:45, and then starting chemo at 10:00. My chemo cocktail consists of Adriamycin (aka "The Red Devil"), Bleomycin, Vinblastine, and Dacarbazine. There are four pre-meds that I get via my IV as well which consist of two anti-nausea medications, a steroid, and an anti-allergy medication. I tolerated all of the pre-meds very well. The Adriamycin stung a bit as the nurse pushed it through my IV, but she slowed down and it went much better. The next two drugs went very well, but the last one (Dacarbazine) was terrible. It burned so bad going into my veins regardless of how slowly we slowed the drip down. I then started having an allergic reaction to it so we had to stop and push some Benadryl through the IV. Finally 40 minutes later we tried it again at the slowest drip and used warm compresses to keep my vein open. It still hurt but was tolerable to continue. I was finally able to leave at 5:00.
My side effects from the first chemo treatment were pretty tolerable for the most part. I had extreme fatigue (seriously I have never slept so much in my life), some nausea but thankfully they sent me home with two different medications to help with this, jaw pain, body aches/pains, and stomach pains/issues. Dr. Alzoubi's office checked in with me frequently over the next week and were so great at answering any questions I had or suggesting remedies to some of the side effects I was having. I finally started feeling normal about 12 days after my first chemo treatment -- just in time for treatment 2...