When Cancer Knocks on your Door

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The good ole college days! For me, they were 15-16 years ago. Just like the average college student, I was living a carefree life, hanging out with friends, trying to make it to class on time, and beating the procrastination bug. I am sure you get the picture. Back then my worries consisted of schoolwork and what I was going to wear to the weekend party. Never in a million years would I have imagined that I would have cancer.

Then in 2006, I found out I was pregnant. I was shocked and a bit embarrassed, worrying to myself what my family and friends were going to think. To be honest, I didn’t know what to think or expect, but I was determined to finish school, so I kept on trucking. Since it was my first pregnancy, I didn’t know what to expect or the things I should be looking for. I do remember that I was extra tired to the point where it was exhausting just to get myself dressed.

Month 4 of my pregnancy rolled around, and it was the day that we would find out the sex of the baby. The ultrasound tech was taking longer than usual, and I asked her if anything was wrong. She told me that it looked as if I had a fibroid tumor, but to make sure she was sending me to another location for a second opinion. That same day I found out I was having a boy. I was excited but at the same time a little anxious because I didn’t know what a fibroid tumor was.

In January 2007, my son was born, healthy and happy. Doctors still monitored the fibroid tumor, which was about the size of a ping pong ball. Scans showed that it was growing despite the medication efforts to shrink it., so I was told I needed to have a laparoscopy to remove it and send it for a biopsy.

Four months after having my son, I had surgery to remove the fibroid tumor. This day vividly lives in my head. I was in the recovery room and the doctor came in and stood at the foot of the bed. These were his words: “Ms. Cox, your surgery went well, but you have cancer. Mesothelioma to be exact.” After that, I can’t recall what else was said. I looked at the faces of my family while trying to comprehend what was going on. What? I have cancer? What is mesothelioma? All I could think about was my baby boy.

No one can be prepared for a doctor telling them they have cancer. I was young, 21 years old and just gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Why me? What did I do to get this? I contemplated in my head for days on end. I hadn’t even heard of mesothelioma and the information the internet was giving me was bleak, with a poor prognosis. Plus, all the patient examples were older men. What is a girl to do? That’s when my faith kicked in overdrive! I was determined to beat mesothelioma and live!

Peritoneal mesothelioma is a type of malignant cancer that is caused by the ingestion of asbestos fibers. It develops in the peritoneum, which is the thin layer of tissue lining the abdomen. Usually, the typical mesothelioma patient is a man older than 65 with a blue-collar or military background. Most patients are diagnosed with mesothelioma at 65 years of age or older. Talk about your atypical patient, that was me! Studies show that Mesothelioma in young people accounts for less than 5% of all diagnoses. The risk of developing mesothelioma is 10 times higher for people older than 60 compared to people younger than 40.  But given my age, I was afforded more treatment options to help with the fight against this cancer.

As part of my treatment, I had surgery with hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy or HIPEC. It worked in my favor and was a success! It took me a couple of months to recover and feel like myself again, but I am glad that I made the decision I did.

Now almost 15 years later I am here to tell my story. It’s a passion of mine to encourage and inspire others. I’m able to connect with patients and their family members by sharing my experience and journey as a contributing writer at The Mesothelioma Center. I do believe that everything happens for a reason, and I am grateful that I can give someone hope and encourage them along the way as they face their journey with cancer. There is nothing that will ever prepare you while you’re battling cancer but just having the sincere support you need will make such a big difference.

By Tamron Little