Plot Twist: You have cancer

You know how life is going along and everything is good, really good. You have a great job, live on your boat, you’re empty nesters, and everything seems to be falling into place. Then…PLOT TWIST!

This really is my life. I am as happy and stress free as I have been ever. Then on November 30, 2018 I woke up at 2:30 in the morning with stabbing pain on the left side of my chest and I couldn’t take a deep breath. At first I thought I could just relax and it would go away and I would go back to sleep. When I couldn’t lie down due to the pain, I woke my husband up. He took my blood pressure, which was fine but my heart rate was over 125. He drove me to the emergency room.

After several hours of medical history, blood tests, x-rays, and a CT scan, a doctor came in and informed us that I was not having a cardiac event and that I did not have a pulmonary embolism. Good news. He went on to say I have a largish mass (10 cm x 5cm) behind my sternum and that it is probably lymphoma. Then the doctor left.

Over the next couple of hours different nurses and doctors came in. There was discussion of admitting me to the hospital and a biopsy. Then they decided to discharge me. I still had chest pain and shortness of breath. I was told I could take Tylenol for the pain and to make an appointment with radiology for a biopsy then follow up with my regular doctor.

I went home. I started making phone calls trying to make that appointment for the biopsy. No one was answering the phone, not even a voicemail. I called my regular doctor, who was with patients, they sad we will call you back. No return phone call.

I did what you would. I started googling my diagnosis. Not good.

The following Monday I was finally able to schedule an appointment for a biopsy. I sent messages to both my primary care doctor and my pulmonologist (I have had asthma my entire life and this is the first time I have had a pulmonologist). Both doctors scheduled appointments for after the biopsy.

Remember chest pain, unknown diagnosis, and lots of not knowing? Imagine having to wait a week. I let my parents and kids know that something is up but I won’t know more until the biopsy.

The biopsy wasn’t bad. I was sedated so no pain or even discomfort for the procedure or even afterward. They told me to expect the results in 3-5 business days. Two days later on Wednesday my pulmonologist called me and asked if I could come in that afternoon. She had the biopsy results.

Deep breaths. Only those hurt.

The diagnosis is that I have primary mediastinal large b-cell lymphoma. It is cancer.


The pulmonologist said she couldn’t tell me much because cancer is not her field. She did show me my chest x-ray and CT scan. And she had been working behind the scenes on my behalf since she saw I was in the emergency room.

More deep breaths. Ow?

I call my parents and my kids to tell them what I know. There are lots of tears. This type of cancer is usually treatable by chemotherapy, but radiation is not really an options because it is right in front of your heart. So, they use the most powerful chemicals they can possibly use. Which means lots of nasty side effects.

So this is my plot twist. I did not expect to have cancer or go through chemotherapy. But that is where I am.

This will be the next chapter in my life. My journey through cancer treatment. It is going to suck. I am going to lose my hair. But lymphomas are very treatable and my prognosis is  very good. I am going to document this journey and I invite you to come along. Fair warning: it is likely going to be  unpleasant and somewhat gross because I plan to share everything.

And at the end of this chapter I will start a new and more fun chapter.