Hello everyone, my name is Nahla Simone. I am 20 years old and I currently study psychology at the University of Central Florida. Here’s my story:
One morning in July of 2019, I woke up with extreme pain in my left hip. I was trying to remember if it was due to something I did during training the day before. I am a goalkeeper-- we dive and land on our hips all the time so I assumed it was because of it. The pain was increasing, so I decided to go to my trainer for help and got scans done. Nothing seemed to work, and the pain kept coming back with a vengeance. I found myself wide awake almost every night crying because of how bad it was. Pain medications soon became my best friend and I forced myself to fight through it. Remember that saying, “fake it til’ you make it”?
Like many athletes who deal with injuries, I wanted to keep playing despite the amount of pain I was in. Despite the many tears I cried behind closed doors, I was driven. I didn’t want to give my coaches a reason to not play me, so I fought through it and kept going. It soon affected my technique, I was making mistakes and it became hard to hide at times. I was becoming frustrated because those mistakes were the difference between being on the game field, and sitting the bench.
The pain soon overpowered the medications and I started to have difficulty walking. It was so bad at times that I was unable to get out of bed and take myself to class. My parents became worried and decided to take matters into their own hands. November came around and I went home for Thanksgiving. My parents took me to an orthopedic surgeon to review the scans done in July. They found that I had lesions in my bone-- the doctor told us that these lesions could be a tumor so they recommended us an orthopedic surgeon that specializes in musculoskeletal tumors. Initially that doctor told us that it was mastocytosis and that it wasn’t cancer. This was the preliminary finding from the pathologist examining my biopsy. A few days later, having returned to Orlando to begin my spring semester, the final results came back.
On January 9th, my life was put on hold when I got a phone call from the doctors telling me that I have cancer. I was so shocked, that I even laughed a little before hanging up. I remember crying hysterically while repeatedly yelling "I have cancer". I will never forget hearing the pain in my mom’s voice when I called and told her the news. I could tell my father was trying to remain calm but I knew he was hurt by the news as well. I was confused and furious-- I felt like breaking everything I came in contact with. The same two words kept running through my head as I tried to make sense of it all: “Why me?”
I flew back home to Texas a few days after I received the call. When I had my first visit with my oncologist, I was told that I have stage 4 Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma, a very aggressive form of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The tumor that I had was located in the bone marrow of my hip and was very large which explains why I’ve been having tremendous pain for so long. When discussing my treatment plan, I was told chemo can cause infertility, so I decided to go through with the process of freezing my eggs. I had to give myself three painful shots in the stomach everyday for two weeks leading up to the procedure.
On my dad’s 50th birthday, February 18th, I started my first round of chemo. It was the longest 8 hours of my life. During that round, I had an anxiety attack and it felt like I was about to die as they were administering the chemo. They had to give me benadryl to calm me down and knock me out. The days following, I did not feel like myself at all. My body was weak, my head was foggy, and felt like puking my guts out. I started to lose my taste and everything tasted like cardboard. Sores grew in my mouth and it became painful to talk. My memory became foggy as well and my focus was gone. In addition to each round of chemo, I am given a shot that temporarily shuts down my ovaries to protect them which causes me to go into early menopause. Because of that, I have hot flashes, nagging headaches, and mood swings. Not to mention weight gain.
Two weeks after the first round, I started to lose my hair. I remember taking a shower and running my fingers through my hair when clumps started to come out. I started to burst out in tears and my family quickly ran upstairs to see what was wrong. When I got dressed, my father took me to my brother’s barber to do the big chop. I ended up getting a pixie cut that only lasted two days-- more hair started to come out and I decided to buzz it all off. The process of going from a full head of hair to being completely bald was difficult to endure at first.
Good news came after I received the results from the PET scan I had after my second round of chemo: the cancer is no longer showing up and the tumor is gone. Even though I am in complete remission, that does not mean that the microscopic cancer cells are gone too. So, I had to continue and push forward. As the rounds went on, the side effects worsened. Chemo is cumulative, so each round felt like I was being dragged deeper and deeper into Hell.
Even though my body was struggling, I remained positive. I had to stay strong for my parents-- I can't imagine how they feel knowing their daughter is going through something like this. Despite the fatigue I was enduring, I forced myself to work out and try to stay in shape. I didn’t want to be too far behind, and I wanted to combat the weight I was gaining from the treatment. I didn’t care if I passed out, I wanted to keep going. Cancer did not define me-- it motivated more than ever to come back stronger and better. My dream is to play professionally overseas and I know I have the power to achieve it. I want to prove myself to myself.
In addition to what was going on with my health, COVID-19 came into the picture. I am severely immunocompromised due to the fact that I have a type of blood cancer and undergoing active chemotherapy for it. If I were to get sick, I most likely won’t survive… So the situation gave my family and I severe anxiety. So much so that we “social distance” inside the house even though we never step foot out of it, except to take me to chemo. Everything was delivered and we vigorously disinfected each item as soon as we brought it inside the house. We would avoid watching the news and going on social media at times because it was frustrating seeing people selfishly hoard supplies, gathering and not staying at home -- which made life harder for people like me with compromised immune systems.
All of my classes were online and I would struggle to catch up. Like I said previously, my focus and memory was foggy which made it hard to complete my work. Luckily, my teachers were very understanding and helped me along the way. I even received phone calls from one of my professors to check up on me from time to time. I honestly didn't think I would come close to passing any of my classes… But, I ended the semester with three A’s, one B, and a C.
Nine days from now, I will have my 5th round of chemo. Am I nervous? To be completely honest, I am. This round will be worse than all the others and I know I will have a hard time. Even though cancer has knocked me down many times, I am not defeated. As mentioned on my Instagram, I am happy it happened in a way. It taught me to be grateful for the life I was given because it always could be worse. It taught me to not complain that much because like I said, it could be worse. I also learned not to dwell on things I can’t control and to stay positive. YOU are the master of your mind and YOU have the power to control your emotions. So why choose to be negative? Remember, “everyday above ground is a good day”. I am happy with the person I became on this journey.
I would like to thank everyone who has reached out to me and gave their support. Like I said before, you made this fight a lot easier. I hope to inspire you guys and many others to keep pushing despite what life throws at you. To my teammates, I miss you guys so much and I cannot wait to be back on the soccer field with you all. GKCO!