Imagine having the absolute best and worst time of your life all in the same year. In January 2016 I took off to Barcelona, Spain and spent the spring semester of my junior year of college studying there. After returning home in May, I started experiencing some stomach aches and pains but figured it was my stomach going into overdrive from the amount of tapas, sangria, carbs, and wines I had consumed the last 4 months.
My doctor initially thought I had H. pylori, a stomach bacteria that we figured I had picked up in Europe. But one week after starting an antibiotic, my symptoms only worsened and I developed a lump on my neck. Another week later, I found myself unable to hold down any food or drink and was experiencing the worst stomach pains I’ve ever felt.
My family and I made the decision to go to the emergency room to get some answers. On June 1, 2016, I was officially diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, just 24 hours after being admitted to the emergency room. Immediately, I started chemotherapy. Burkitt’s is a type of aggressive Non-Hodgkin’s and I was told we needed to start treatment right away because of that. They found tumors in my neck, breasts, and stomach.
At the moment of diagnosis, I felt nothing but relief because we finally figured out what was wrong with me. I’m not sure when exactly, but it wasn’t until later that it actually all sunk in. Maybe it was after I realized I wasn’t going back to school with all my classmates and friends to start our senior year of college. Or maybe it was after spending my 22nd birthday in the hospital.
Eventually, it sunk in. Each time checking into the hospital for my chemo got a little bit tougher… I had to stay in the hospital during treatment because I received 24-hour and 12-hour bags. But I came to know every single nurse on 5 South, the oncology floor, and am grateful for having that opportunity. Exactly 6 months later, on December 1st I completed my last round of chemotherapy…then I was readmitted after another infection from low white blood cells. Then a few weeks after that, I left the oncology floor and haven’t had to check back into the hospital since! Luckily, I had terrific doctors, nurses, and a family that were with me every step of the way. On January 6, 2017 my PET scan results came back and I was told I was in complete remission.
That day I started my drive back to Pullman, Washington, where I finished my senior year and graduated with my classmates that spring. I’m now 3 years in remission and it still amazes me how that year went from the best time of my life, exploring Europe, traveling every weekend and not having a care in the world, to the scariest time of my life, spending weeks in hospital rooms and worrying about every little thing that could harm me. It’s a crazy thing, but I try my best to never take anything for granted now and hope that I can help others do the same.
By Kristen Droogh