In December 2013 I was diagnosed with Stage IV Acute Lymphoblastic Lymphoma. I was 31 years old.
I was six months away from graduating from my psychiatry residency program, finally feeling like all the hard work I had put into my career (four years of pre-med in college, four years of medical school, and nearly four years of residency), would soon pay off.
Within a few days I was told:
- That minor cough I had been dealing with was actually cancer
- It was stage IV
- It was a rare kind of cancer, so instead of six months of chemotherapy, I would need… three years
- I could die imminently, so I would need to start treatment immediately
- There was no time to freeze my eggs, so I’d never have children
Within a few days I had started an intensive chemotherapy regimen. I spent the next few weeks in and out of the hospital.
I tried to keep working, but it soon became apparent that I was becoming too sick.
After six weeks I went into remission, which was great—but I still had years of chemo left (anything less and I would be at a high risk of relapse), and I soon found the worst was yet to come.
Within a few months my relationship of five years ended.
Soon after I became too sick to take care of myself so I moved back in with my parents.
I tried to stay positive, but I felt awful all the time.
After about eight months of chemo (up to five days a week), I was starting to lose it.
Between the constant pain, nausea, mouth sores, and abject fatigue, I looked—and felt—totally disfigured.
After a year, I finished the intensive phase of chemo and transitioned to maintenance, and eagerly anticipated starting to feel better.
I didn’t start to feel better.
Still, I was desperate to get my life back, and after a year and a half, while I was still getting monthly chemo, I move back to Los Angeles and tried to go back to work.
It didn’t work, though—I was too sick.
At one point I had to deal with a relapse scare, and I seriously faced the possibility that I would soon die.
The dark days stretched out into dark months, and then dark years. I felt depressed and constantly ill, experiencing a level of suffering most people couldn’t imagine.
But then I woke up one day… and didn’t feel terrible.
A month later, I felt a little better. Not yet physically better, but mentally.
Soon after, I started to date. I felt insecure that no one would want to date a cancer survivor, but found that people didn’t really care.
(I did have bomb short, curly hair).
After another month, I met someone who seemed to think my experience made me special, rather than broken.
I was still on chemo, and for the first time in a long time, I had someone to drive me to my appointments.
A few months later I had my last dose of chemotherapy. A few months after that we got engaged.
Earlier this year, we got married.
If there is one thing this experience taught me, that could apply to you, reading this right now—it is this:
The human spirit is resilient. The worst things in the world can happen to you, and you could bounce back. It might not happen overnight, but it will happen.
Throughout the process I wrote about my experience with cancer as honestly when it was hopeful as when it was sad. You can read my past articles about my cancer journey, starting at the beginning, here:
You can also watch me throw down some fly cancer-related rhymes in the Elana Miller Cancer Rap: