On the afternoon of Friday March 27th; 10 days after my 27th Birthday, 6 days after my 5 year Wedding Anniversary, 4 days shy of starting the paperwork to buy our first home, a month shy of my oldest child turning 5, and less than two weeks away from undergoing our first deployment as a family… I was diagnosed with Stage 2B Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
The feelings that I experienced at that time were unexplainable. I have had so many angry feelings & emotions running through me that as I sit here to write this I can’t help but still feel like an outsider in my own life. Life has completely thrown me a curve ball, in no way was I ready for this- I don’t think anyone would be.
I am a work from home Mom, who spent everyday with her children. Little did I know that the next 6 months would completely change my life.
The week after my diagnosis was filled with multiple appointments a day. Every Doctor that I spoke with would pause for a moment or two after each sentence waiting for me to show some sort of emotion. I felt as if their words were just a whirlwind buzzing in my brain. All I could think about were my two sweet babies, and how this was going to affect them. We quickly learned that I was at a Stage 2B (Bulky) because of the size of the mass in my chest. I would need 4 months of Chemo immediately followed by radiation.
The next Monday, I went into surgery to have a port catheter inserted in my chest. That was an interesting event, and I quickly learned that I’d have a love/hate relationship with my new friend “Gerald”. That following Friday I had my first Chemo and it was an experience to say the least. All those crazy feelings and emotions I had became real. I was at infusion pretty much all day. I came home and slept that entire night and most of the next day; only to wake up feeling SO sick and even more exhausted.
I sat for almost an entire day asking myself if I could really do this… could I fight to save my life?
By the end of day 4 after chemo, I felt myself slowly returning to the Shandelle I knew. I was even able to take the kids on a walk to the park, like we used to do everyday.
Thankfully we lived in a military community that showered us with love, kind words, dinners, and donations for which I am so grateful for the love and support.
My treatments were every other Friday, for four months straight. What a way to welcome the weekend. Because my kids were so small I had to focus on them and I knew I couldn’t’t wallow in self pity; I didn’t have time. I knew that I had to stay positive and be strong for them.
By the end of my second round; my fourth infusion, my body recognized the start of the pre-medications. My body remembered that taking these medications would be the start of the next horrible 4 days, and at that moment I could taste the Saline flush in my port (Gerald), which would in turn make me vomit. Not just once, but for the remainder of my infusion which typically lasted at least 6 hours. This reaction made me even sicker and I would come home and sleep knowing that I had two babies and a husband downstairs that needed and wanted their Mommy and wife back. Most days following Chemo I was able to lay on the couch with them to watch a show.
I went from being a full time hands on Mommy to a Mommy who just didn’t have the energy to keep up with her precious 4 & 2 year old and it was beyond difficult. My best friend went from husband and Father to now a caregiver and Father but I did managed to maintain my job, while somehow balancing being a Mommy, Wife, and fighting cancer.
My hair quickly began to thin, and fall out. The day before my last infusion (#8) I sat in my kitchen and allowed my best friend of almost 20 years shave my head in front of my two children and my husband.
The immediate reaction after seeing myself in the mirror was total shock. Now I looked sick, I looked like I had cancer.
My last Chemo was by far the hardest one, I vomited all over myself and sobbed to my doctor about how I couldn’t do it… I just couldn’t. After many words with her, I decided I had to pull myself together. They gave me a medication to put me to sleep and I finished the treatment.
There are no words to truly explain the thought of knowing that you could actually die and not be able to create memories with your loved ones. The gift of life is fragile and few may realize just how precious it can be. I can tell you that since being diagnosed I have never hugged or kissed my kid’s goodnight the same. I was given a two week break to allow my body to heal and relax, before starting 17 days straight of Radiation. Radiation was much easier for me than Chemo. They molded a mask to my face to keep me still and hold me in place and each session was about 15-25 minutes. I had to hold my breath while the beam was on and moving around my body to avoid damage to my heart and places we didn’t want to damage. The first few times were the worst. I was scared that I would breath at the wrong time each time. My voice quickly became raspy and my throat became raw. My chest & neck looked like I just returned from vacation in the Bahamas. These symptoms; although rather irritating, I would take over the side effects of my experience with Chemo any day.
Radiation quickly ended after almost 4 weeks and I met a few amazing older women during this time who were also going through Radiation. I have slowly gained my energy and strength back the past month, and have started to try to get back into a routine. I go for my final post treatment PET scan tomorrow morning and all those feelings I first felt when I got that phone call are back.
A note from Shandelle; loving wife & mother and as of TODAY in Remission (full metabolic response!) ~ Cancer has been a process: a process of shock, acceptance, grief, denial and loss. It touches not only yourself but everyone around you. I dealt with it by being very honest, I didn’t deny the impact it has had on my life but I didn’t focus on it. I am still me, Shandelle and I want to be remembered as this fun, crazy, awesome, amazing life-loving fighter who never regretted a single moment.