Nina, Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma Survivor

My journey with lymphoma began three days before New York City was on lockdown for the 2020 COVID Pandemic – quite the combination. I still remember the night my doctor called me to tell me the news. It was March 11, I was sitting alone in my apartment, and as I saw my phone begin to ring, I answered in a cheerful and hopeful tone; never expecting that my life would be turned upside down. I vividly remember his emotionless and somber tone as he said “hi” from the other side of the phone. I added my parents to the call so that we could talk to him together. He took a long pause and then cut right to the chase, and all I can recall were the words, “lymphoma, a blood cancer.” I placed my hand over my mouth in shock and stood up to gaze out my apartment window. Everything became a complete blur, I went mute, nothing was registering, and all I could repeat was the word “NO,” over and over again. I felt helpless, alone, scared, and overwhelmed. How could a 24-year-old, health-conscious, former Division I athlete, have cancer? It didn’t make sense. It’s couldn’t be right.

My official diagnosis was stage IV diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL). The lymphoma had spread to my organs and lymph nodes, causing my diagnosis to be considered stage IV. Upon receiving my diagnosis, life took a quick U-turn. I had to start chemotherapy immediately and began just one week after being diagnosed. As a woman of my age, I had various concerns about the effects chemotherapy would have on my body, but I had to dive right in and wasn’t able to freeze my eggs or take some of the suggested precautions before beginning treatment. I received R-CHOP every three weeks for the next five months.

It was a grueling process and some days it took everything out of me. However, I have always been the girl in the room to smile at everyone, approach life with a ‘glass half full’ attitude, and pride myself on giving everything 100 percent. So when I was diagnosed, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t let cancer control my happiness – a promise which ended up being one of the best things I could’ve ever done. Each day I woke up with a new appreciation for life. I slowed down and began to enjoy the simpler things in life, and even discovered newfound pleasure in cooking, vegetable gardening, daily meditation, therapy, outdoor hikes, exercise, and connecting with friends. I saw life as a precious gift and decided to take control of my outlook on it. I realized that I could’ve chosen to wake up and feel victimized or I could choose to live with joy. I let myself be scared, but never let it control me. I acknowledged fear as something I could work on rather than an all-consuming defeat.

Each round of chemo built on the next and each one seemed to knock me down more than the last. But, I wouldn’t let myself lose my smile because I knew it was working and I knew I could beat it. I put trust in my body and knew it was capable of doing amazing things. I did everything in my power to try and counteract this disease. I ate whole, nutritious foods, took out sugar, eliminated alcohol, and discovered a newfound appreciation for cooking. I even went back to school to get my health coaching certification and I chose to work towards new goals and continue to educate myself. Another activity I started during treatment was documenting my journey on TikTok. It provided me with a supportive and encouraging community and also gave me an outlet to share my story in a raw and honest manner.

After six months of treatment, I was due for my final scan. Leading up to the scan, I was experiencing full-body aches, chest pain, night sweat (all the symptoms I had before learning I had cancer), and I was terrified that I wasn’t in the clear yet. I had convinced myself that chemo didn’t work and my doctor decided to push up my scan a few weeks ahead of what we had planned. On July 13, five months after receiving my diagnosis, I found out I was in remission. This was the single most incredible day – it worked. I did it!

I had moved back home during treatment, so two months after I found out that I was in remission, I decided to return to my apartment in New York and resumed my job in digital marketing. I am continuing my studies in nutrition and hope to one day pursue a career in this industry. I certainly have a lot on my plate, but I couldn’t be happier. I feel like lymphoma gave me the tools and confidence to conquer just about anything that life throws my way. How many people can say that at age 24?

Receiving a cancer diagnosis scary and knowing you are closer to the word ‘death’ is even more daunting. But it can also open something else up inside that you didn’t know existed – something that I will be FOREVER grateful for. I have learned a few very important things from this journey that will follow me through the rest of my life:

  • When faced with adversity, every human has a choice. You can choose to live in fear and let negativity grip your state of mind or choose joy. When I chose joy, I gave myself the ability to see life as a miracle.
  • When you face the fear of death, a lot of things in your life get put into perspective. I never want anyone to feel close to death, but what it taught me is profound. Life is impermanent. If we view life in a way that highlights impermanence and uses it to our advantage we begin to get out of our own way and really start living.
  • I learned humankind is innately good. My family, my friends, strangers – these humans gave me the strength I needed. I will never underestimate the power of human support and will make it my priority to give that back to others.

Always remember, we can do hard things. Never give up. You will conquer.