Today’s, Baron’s Beef is taking a slight detour to share something personal with you. I have now been working at the Calhoun Times for three months, and there’s something I would like to share with you all (y’all).

June 28, 2018 started out like any other day. I had been dealing with a dry cough on and off for the past two and a half weeks, but other than that, nothing was out of the ordinary. Looking at my calendar, I had a follow up appointment with my doctor over a dry cough. Two weeks earlier, I had scheduled my yearly physical and, at the very end, I mentioned the dry cough that I had been experiencing for about two days. Being 22 years old and having no other symptoms, my doctor was not alarmed, but decided to take an X-ray to see if there was anything going on in my lungs. Indeed, there was something there, and my doctor wrote me a prescription for a strong pneumonia medicine and to follow up in two weeks. Fast forward to June 28, my cough had not diminished significantly and my doctor decided to take another X-ray. There had been virtually no change. Now my doctor was concerned and ordered a CT scan. My father joined me as I waited. Hours later, my doctor gives us just about the worst and, in my mind, unexpected news possible. Cancer. The room got eerily silent for what seemed like hours. Hearing the news, it was almost impossible to believe. In the first instant, I’m thinking there must be a mistake. Me? Just six weeks after graduating from college, 22-year-old me? Someone who’s never had a health issue worse than H1N1 Swine Flu back in 2009? The next moment, I think this is just some dream, and I’ll wake up in my bed just like any other morning. Then, as my father embraces me, I realize that this is real, this is really happening. To this day, I still do not have the words to describe what I felt in those first few seconds and minutes of reality. It’s like your whole world coming to a screeching halt. Over time, I have thought to myself it’s not possible to describe in words or even to someone who has not heard this type of news. It’s something only those who have had this kind of news directed at them can truly understand. I did what I could to hold myself together, but after arriving home, I could not hold back the tidal wave of emotion anymore. After I had cried, screamed, etc., I needed to pull myself together. My mother is a two-time breast cancer survivor, and the thought registered: ‘I need to be strong for her. If I break down (again), she will too.’ My aunt (a former anesthesiologist) flew down from New York that night to help us with the complex process, and the following morning, I was at the hospital. Needless to say did not sleep much that night. The greatest fear I had during this time is the general “you don’t know” feeling. The CT scan told me it was widespread, but I had no idea how severe the cancer was, what kind it was and if there was anything that could be done. Chemotherapy? Surgery? And because you don’t know, you’re scared. I was scared, frightened out of my mind. I tried not to think about it, but reality is inescapable. It turned out I had Stage III Mediastinal Enlarged B-Cell Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. It is important to note, there is no history of lymphoma in my family, and I was informed there is no correlation between mine and my mother’s cancers. I was told sometimes things happen, and you can probably imagine that’s tough to hear. “How? How could this happen? And why did it happen?” As this form of lymphoma cancer is aggressive, an equally aggressive treatment regiment is required. The next six months consisted of six week-long visits to the hospital every three weeks to receive chemotherapy treatment. To note, this is a type of chemotherapy that runs 24 hours a day, so from Monday morning to Friday evening, I did not leave the hospital. The first half of the treatment did not start off well, and hit a low point after a bleeding episode, followed weeks later by a bowel resection. In short, the chemotherapy had not only taken the cancer away, but part of the intestinal wall as well. The emergency surgery resulted in an extended two-week stay in the hospital. During that time, just getting out of bed was a struggle, let alone putting one foot in front of the other. When matters started going progressively downhill, I felt this overwhelming sense of dismay and the thought of “What’s next? What’s going to happen next?” It just seemed like one thing built up on top of another. Thoughts of my own mortality crept in. I was overwhelmed with so many questions I simply did not have the answers to. I landed on a coping mechanism. I began to regard my situation as more of a test or a hurdle I must get through. I have been presented with a terrible situation that was not my own choice, and now I need to find my way out of it. I need to pick myself up by the bootstraps and continue fighting, giving it everything I’ve got. The surgery and aftermath could be a story on its own. Some smaller issues that have progressively gotten better as time has passed, but still are dealt with to this day.

The process itself is, in short, agonizing. It’s like a nightmare, playing over and over on loop. Going through cancer is a daily struggle with no off-days. You don’t know what the next day holds. It’s impossible to know what physical and mental problems you’ll have on any given day. Will you feel frustration? Sadness? Grief? For the younger people out there, can you imagine not being to bathe yourself, go to bathroom on your own or even walk without any support? Considering I have never had issues like that before, it is quite humbling and a stark reminder of how quickly something we regard as so inherent can be stripped away so easily. There were plenty of setbacks during the course of the treatment, but I learned you have to keep a positive frame of mind with a fighting spirit and find the light, even in what may seem like the darkest of times.

Fortunately after the surgery, things slowly started to improve. The tumors continued to shrink and I finished up the rest of my treatment at the end of November 2018. I find myself again at a loss of words for the emotions I experienced upon leaving the hospital for the final time. It is relief and tears of joy all at the same time, knowing that this process is nearly through. And as of March 19, I have been in remission. That’s a day you don’t forget, I assure you. I mentioned this earlier, but it’s like a tidal wave of emotion hits you, only this time, good emotions.

So why did I tell you this? Multiple reasons, but three come to my mind. First, do not assume you know everything there is to know about another person. Someone might be having a bad day. They’re tired, seem out of it, etc. On the surface, it might seem like, oh, that person’s lazy or they’re not doing this right, etc. Don’t assume you know everything about someone you’ve just met or come across. There may be more behind the scenes you don’t know about.

Second, never, ever, EVER take your health for granted, especially my young people out there. Collectively, we take our health for granted and believe nothing can touch us from enjoying our lives, until one instant changes that forever. I was in that boat. Six weeks out of college ready to see what the next chapter had in store, feeling great, until cancer. Life can change in a moment’s notice. I encourage you, even more I plead, always get your yearly checkups and tell your doctor if anything is out of the ordinary. If I had not told my doctor about the dry cough last June, who knows at what point my lymphoma would have been discovered? I shudder at that thought.

And third, I hope this helps someone. That’s the idea behind writing this piece. Maybe there’s someone out there in the community going through a similar situation. Perhaps there are those going through long-term challenges. I didn’t ask for it. No one does, so make sure you have a well-insulated support system around you because, I can assure you, I would not be here today if it was not for them. Though you may have to go through some matters alone, others are there for emotional support. If this helps even one person, it will have made recounting the pain, sorrow, confusion and frustration all the worthwhile. As last Friday marks one year since diagnosis, I could not be more thankful for the life I have now and the life I hope to lead.

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