My name is Anna and I live in Spain. My journey with FL started in October 2018 when I was 34. When the year started, I only had a strong wish for that year: to start a family. For many reasons, we had been postponing it for 4 years and finally we felt it was the right time. I started the year feeling great, I took a new job opportunity, I enrolled to a photography program I always wanted to take, etc. But suddenly I received the bad news.
My mum was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue on June 2018. She has a few autoimmune problems (lichen planus and Sjogren’s syndrome) that ended up provoking her a tumor. I was terrified. It was the first time I was exposed to cancer affecting a very close person. For me cancer meant a death sentence. So the news of my mother’s cancer took my energy away and I spent many days crying while we didn’t know how good/bad her cancer was. In the end it wasn’t that bad, it was localized so she got rid of it with a surgery and the removal of some nearby lymph nodes. I went back to my happy days after we received the news that she would do well. But all this episode with cancer made me worry about a little node I had for a few months in my neck.
Back in March 2018, I went to my physician to ask him about a little node I had. He checked it and did a CT scan but he said that the node was reactive and I was potentially fighting an infection and that the node would disappear. I didn’t ask and I didn’t know how long is normal to have a node but the thing is that in July it was still there. So a bit sensitive to health issues after my mum’s cancer, I went again to get my node checked. This time I was redirected to an hematologist. Call me naive but that redirection didn’t worry me at all because I was feeling great, at that point I was still convinced it was nothing even if doctor Google did already tell me that in worse case scenario it would be lymphoma. So I got blood work, more scans and the doctor asked for a biopsy. Call me naive again, but even the biopsy didn’t make me realize at that point that I was probably closer to the lymphoma scenario. Even when I heard the words coming out of the hematologist’s mouth I didn’t believe it. I remember starting to cry and feeling so detached from reality. They were telling me I had cancer, an indolent one, one that is treatable. Follicular lymphoma stage 3 grade 2. I went for a second opinion. They confirmed the diagnosis.
I don’t really know what happened inside me but for a few weeks I was looking into the mirror and I didn’t see myself anymore. It was like I was looking at another person, the new me, the sick me. A lot of crying, fear, feeling that my life plans were over overwhelmed me in the first few weeks.
I was lucky enough to get a great doctor who made me understand very well my options. I was put on watch and wait.
I made two decisions: I wasn’t ready to go public with my cancer at work. I liked the company I joined even if since I joined my life was really a mess (mother’s cancer, my own cancer) and I was obviously not in my best self to socialize and find my place there. But I liked my job and it was helping me feel I was still normal. I remember, at that point, I didn’t think I was normal anymore 🙂 I only shared it with a colleague, a friend now, and with my manager to not feel guilty if I had to take time off. But I kept it as a secret from the rest. The second decision was that I wanted to move on with my plans of having a child. I felt it was now or never. So I talked with my husband and I told him I was ready if he was still ready. By December I was pregnant.
I had a normal pregnancy; I was healthy and so was the baby. The only difference between my pregnancy and any other pregnancy was that it was considered a high-risk pregnancy and I was monitored more often. Aina was born in August 2019 and I cried again but this time of extreme happiness.
Since the diagnosis, but specially during the pregnancy, I thought a lot about life and death. About me dying young and leaving her without a mother at an early age. It was a very sad thought. The funny thing is that since she arrived in this world that thought doesn’t appear that often.
I am now capable of enjoying little things I didn’t enjoy before and be more here and now. So here and now I choose to take good care of myself and my family and forget about what will or won’t happen to me.
I lived another very scary moment though just after Aina was born. During the pregnancy my node disappeared. But a month after she was born not only did it come, it came back bigger than before. I grew another one right next to the first one in less than 3 weeks. My doctor tested me for transformation since that sudden growth was very abnormal for follicular. This time, as opposed to my first time, I was ready for the worse. Transformation and my fears of having been extremely selfish and leaving a baby and a husband alone soon were in my mind all day. So this time when my doctor told me it was not transformation, I only could feel relief and hope. He offered me to start treatment since he didn’t like the progression I experienced. If you know a bit about the nature of FL, it is very particular for each individual. So my case was very abnormal and I was offered to start with the most manageable treatment, 4 doses of Rituximab in a month. If the treatment didn’t work, then I could consider stronger chemo options (R-CHOP, BR). So I was treated on December 2019 and this treatment put me in remission. Again, these days in the hospital receiving the treatment were days where I also thought a lot and kept imagining and believing in that future with my family. I made a silly plan, I would make a challenge every year for 50 years more.
That year, 2019, I was done with my first challenge: Aina. In 2020, I overcame a Pandemic. Not bad, huh? 🙂
I love my life even with a pandemic around. We are all good, healthy. I got promoted at work. I live now in a beautiful place closer to nature. I feel truly blessed.
I know I am only at the beginning of my journey with FL but I don’t feel anymore detached or not normal. This disease will live with me, with us. But I am stronger than it is for now, mentally and physically. So I am enjoying life more than I think I would have done if I wasn’t diagnosed. Strange right? In some way I am grateful that this disease has brought me the opportunity to learn more about myself and find some mental peace. What I have here and now is ALL I want.
So I hope I can inspire some people to keep living their lives and keep making their dreams happen since the future comes one day at a time.