My Grim Battle

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My life flipped upside down in summer 2019. I didn’t know if I wanted to share my story with the world. But I think I’m ready now. I think that no one should suffer in silence at this young age. I was diagnosed with Big “C” Stage IV T-cell lymphoma (SPTCL) complicated by HLH (an autoimmune disease). It’s an aggressive and rare diagnosis; only 150 cases reported. The diagnosis came after staying in the hospital for about 3 months with high fevers and daily rigor episodes.

Cancer……doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t give a shit who you are, what age you are, what religion you are, what car you drive, your sexuality or your social status! Being diagnosed with cancer is news no one wants to hear in their lifetime. For me, it was completely unexpected and the most difficult challenge I had to face. I am grateful for my incredible family and close friends who went above and beyond to support me and still do. They made me feel strong enough to fight this battle like a warrior.

At times, the side effects of chemo felt very scary, like losing your hair, feeling weak, facial changes, and having no energy at all. The only way to cope up was to keep your mind positive, stay strong, and have faith in God. The last 1.6 years have been extremely challenging for me and my family. I have seen good days and bad days. There have been days and months that I have been bedridden due to pain, bones that ache, nausea, high fever, feeling exhausted, no taste, mouth sores, and weakness. It’s a mixture of feelings that moves deep into your soul and will change your life physically and emotionally.

But I had to be positive all this time to gain strength. Despite all that happened, I accept this as a moving point in my life which made me much stronger for life ahead. I still feel beautiful with or without hair (egghead). It takes time to accept it and the process can be very emotionally draining. But I realize that I have a role to raise awareness and help others tackle this.

Part 2: My Re-Birth (Stem Cell Transplant) 

I’m 1-year-old today! It’s taken so much courage to get here and I am so thankful. The first 100 days of the stem cell transplant were critical because the transplant could be rejected and I could have gotten a critical illness. My treatment was during the Covid-19 pandemic, so I had to be isolated for 32 days in the hospital with no one to hug or hold my hands.

I was on chemo and radiation therapy for 7 days and I had no idea what laid ahead. I had no clue what complications there might be. Will the transplant be successful?  Will I be able to get my life back and meet my family again?

I was really weak by the end of it. I shed so many tears of pain. I can’t express what I have gone through.

When you’re faced with the greatest obstacle and the only choice is to live, you take a deep breath, look the hardship in the eye, and focus. Focus on being well and focus on being strong. It took all my strength and motivation to overcome this and to be a strong woman to live life. Life never gives you a second chance.  I was lucky to have one in my life. My donor was my brother, my life savior.

During my 8 months post-SCT I was neutropenic, which means I was very low on white blood cells to fight infection so I needed to be isolated. As hard as this was, I know I’m one of the lucky ones to have my beautiful family and close friends right by my side. I can just hope and pray for the best in life. I am a survivor,  a warrior, and I have learned that the human spirit is stronger than any adversity. No matter what your battle is, just keep going and keep fighting. I’m finally starting to process a bit more of what I have been through the last 1.8 years. 

Part 3: Today, Stem Cells are One Year Old!!!!!!

Today my immune system is one year old and so far so good. 

Happy birthday to the kindergarten cells. A year ago, I was right in the middle of the hardest time of my life. Now I couldn’t be more thankful and grateful. Happy 1 year Stem Cell Birthday to me!! A lot of ups and downs but hopefully more ups going forward. 

Thank you to every single person who supported me through my transplant and recovery- to the hospital staff and the local cancer community. It’s been a long journey to get here, at some point it felt like this day would never come. Increases in Covid everywhere means I need to continue to self-isolate. I’m just going to use this time to focus on my recovery. I have been given a second chance at everything in life. You only live once and I’m not about to waste it!

By Harjeet Kaur