A few weeks ago I visited with a woman who was helping coordinate book sales for an author visit I was managing at my son’s school. Normally we only talked by email. But my emails hadn’t been answered lately and I ran into another parent who mentioned that she’d heard the woman’s daughter had been having health issues. The other parent and I immediately went to see her and found out that she’d taken her daughter to the pediatrician multiple times and the daughter had been given antibiotics. But her symptoms hadn’t improved. In fact, she’d just had a biopsy done the day before on the mass on her neck. And they’d found a tumor in her chest during a chest x-ray. The doctors were thinking cancer. Lymphoma.
Fatigue allowed the worry to show in the woman’s eyes as she tried and failed to keep her voice neutral. Professional. Tried to care about the author and the book sales and the spread sheets.
I knew that voice. I knew that fatigue. I knew that difficulty concentrating.
My fingers instinctively flew to the scar on my own neck, now barely visible 14 years later.
“That was me,” I said. “I had that same thing.” I showed her the scar on my neck. And told her that I’d been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma back in 1999, when I was 28.
“Wow,” the mother who’d walked over to see the woman with me said, “Talk about being in the right place at the right time. I’m so glad we went over to see her. You were able to provide her with some comfort during such a scary time.”
A few days later the definitive diagnosis came in. She sent me an email. Her 14-year-old daughter had Hodgkin’s, stage two. I wrote back immediately.
“That is exactly what I had,” I said. “Same stage and everything. And I’m still here and doing fine. It’s going to be a little unpleasant, but she will get through this. Please let her know I’d be happy to talk to her about my experience and give her a hug.”
The next time I saw her the woman gave me a hug. Her eyes were still fatigued but there was a new determination in them. She was now in the fight. Her daughter had started chemo and was in the hospital feel crappy, but on the road to recovery.
“I showed your email to my daughter,” she said. “It was so uplifting. Thank you.”
Cancer has given me the ability to be grateful for so many things, from tiny to huge. But one of the best it has given me is the ability to help other people newly diagnosed with cancer by giving them hope. I remember when I was first diagnosed and a friend of mine put me in touch with a woman named Sarah, who’d had Hodgkin’s during high school and was then 30. That ten-minute conversation did more for my psyche than anything else had. I clearly remember Sarah saying, “I barely even remember it. I haven’t had to go for checkups in over ten years.” I clung to those words over the next 8 months of treatment, during all the ups and downs. They were a gift.
I’m so glad I was able to give someone else the gift of hope.