Today, we're sharing a story about Kelly Madigan, a young adult cancer survivor who not only lost a parent to Hodgkin lymphoma, but was diagnosed with the same disease when she was a teenager.
"Cancer." It's hard to remember how I reacted to that word before it became part of my everyday vocabulary and everyday life.
My dad died of Hodgkin lymphoma when I was just 15-months-old, and this was pretty much all I knew about the disease. About two months before my seventeenth birthday, I had an enlarged lymph node removed from my neck, and before I knew it, Hodgkin lymphoma became my world. Instead of finishing up my junior year of high school and studying for my finals, I was having a port put in, undergoing chemotherapy, then radiation treatment. Despite all of this, or because of it, I learned how to truly appreciate life.
My best friend Liz summed it up well when she wrote the quote we now live by: "Live strong, dream big, and never stop smiling." My family and friends surrounding me provided constant positive attitudes and made it easy to keep going through each day. Without the laughs and smiles, I honestly don't know what I would have done.
We celebrated my five-year remission anniversary last year, and as a survivor I have decided to give back. I'm currently finishing my last year of a Masters in nursing program through Vanderbilt University School of Nursing to get my MSN in pediatric acute care. It's my plan to then work in pediatric oncology and help kids as they deal with cancer.
I am also giving back to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) in as many ways as I can. I have done Light The Night Walk (LTN) on multiple occasions in New York and Tennessee. Even now, I am looking forward to my next walk! Last year I also participated in a young adult cancer survivor meet and greet dinner on Long Island, which I enjoyed so much.
As I think back to when I was a patient I remember thinking, "Why me and what do I do now?" But I also remember that I tried to keep this clichéd, yet true, statement in my mind: "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade." If you are faced with cancer know that you can, and will be a better person after cancer. And always remember: live strong, dream big, and never stop smiling.
Your support makes a difference. For more information about LLS's vital work, visit www.LLS.org.
Today, we're sharing a story from Jackie Fiore, a young woman who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) when she was a student at Boston College:
“Being in my third year of college, most people would have thought that I was simply a "run down college student". During my first semester back at school after a fun filled summer, I was having trouble getting out of bed, stopped attending many of my classes and was not taking part in the many fun college activities that I once had. I had thought I was just in somewhat of a mental depression, so I did not bother telling my parents how terrible I was really feeling. My mother's instincts could sense that something was seriously wrong, though, so over Christmas break she insisted that I see my doctor.
A few days after being back at college, I received a phone call from my mother telling me that my doctor had called with the results of my blood tests and he explained that my white blood cell count was low. Unfortunately, it wasn't clear yet that there was something wrong with me, so it took several months, blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy before I would find out that I had AML.
In just a few days I was at the hospital receiving high doses of chemotherapy. I was so scared, but there was no doubt in my mind that I wasn't going to fight off this disease. It was so hard for me to go through such a long, harsh journey at the young age of 21. If it weren't for the support of my family and friends, I would have had a very rough time making it through. Another very hard part for me was the loss of my hair. Physically, I felt very vulnerable. I fought my mother on the idea of a wig, but when I found the right one and took my mom's advice, emotionally, it saved me. I could walk out of my house and not feel like a "cancer patient".
I have now been in remission for four years and one month, and I feel wonderful! I recently moved into my own apartment with two friends that is a quick walk from the beach, and I am receiving my Masters in Elementary and Special Education. I am also giving back as much as I can. I found out about Team In Training in January of 2009 when I was in Disney World and saw Team In Training everywhere at my hotel and during their race through all the parks. As soon as I got back from my trip, I looked up information about it and soon registered for the San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon. Since then I have become even more involved with LLS by walking and fundraising for Light The Night Walk, and I have been mentoring a 22-year-old girl recently diagnosed with cancer as part of the First Connection program.
During my whole experience as a cancer patient, I reminded myself of an inspirational quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. that I hope will be just as helpful to anyone facing a similar situation: Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. Your support makes a difference.”
- Jackie Fiore