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No matter what it looks like, there is always hope. #14000Reasons

“My name is Tashika and I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2013. It took a couple of months to get my lymphoma into remission and the remission didn’t last long. I had a stem cell transplant in 2015 and so far my treatment is on course and stable. Taking my blood cancer journey as an independent young adult, I might not have survived on my own. Fortunately, I had a couple of ‘guardian angels’ and the LRF to help and guide me along the way. The support I received from the LRF allowed me to keep my insurance, and receive the stem cell transplant that I desperately needed. They helped me redeem the most precious part of me, my humanity, and is a huge part of why I am here today.

It would be an understatement to say that my journey has been tumultuous. I started chemo in January of 2014. In May my doctor told me that the cancer had outsmarted the chemo and she cancelled my last cycle of treatment. I was devastated because I was one cycle away from being done with treatment. She also told me that I would have to find a new doctor and hospital to undergo ICE chemo. The following week I started looking for new doctors and hospitals. I had two weeks to find a new doctor, decide if I wanted to harvest eggs before chemo (in case I wanted have children), go home to pack my things and look for apartments (job paid my rent but I was forced to take a leave due to my treatment); all while being hospitalized for my first ICE treatment. In June 2014 I started ICE and harvested my stem cells for my transplant in August. Then my doctor said I could not be transplanted because I had bleomycin poisoning (a pneumonia but I later learned that I had interstitial lung disease) from the first chemo treatment. 

Life was really tough for the next year. I had to take really high doses of steroids to treat the lung disease (which I still take). I gained 120 pounds from the prednisone. My funds were running out and I wasn't even close to getting my stem cell transplant because my doctor was afraid I would die or have to be permanently placed on a ventilator. From September 2014 until September 2015, I waited in limbo and had five different chemo treatments. I waited as long as I could and then I decided to get another oncologist.

My third oncologist was confident that I was able to survive the stem cell transplant but he wanted to do radiation first. He set me up to do scans but unfortunately, I couldn't undergo radiation because my scans showed that cancer had spread to my spleen. He said that I could do chemo and consider removing my spleen. But after my last cycle of chemo, my oncologist said I needed to do radiation ASAP. Things were slowing progressing and by October 2015, my doctor finally scheduled my transplant. I'm so grateful for my doctor who has always been honest, personable and he followed through.

I was unemployed for three years and I was practically homeless for some of that time. There were many days when I would wake up in the morning and didn’t know where I would be in the evening, nor how I would pay for necessities along the way. I knew where I would be on the days I had chemo and prayed that I’d find a destination in between.

I would not wish lymphoma on anyone. However, the diagnosis and the resultant journey have given me gifts. Perseverance. Empathy. Intuition and an understanding of how to cope with uncertainty. And awareness. I have changed to the core and the change has been positive. I am still a patient but I am most definitely a SURVIVOR!

Today I feel that I can look forward to a future. I recently finished my Master’s degree in social work. That was a goal of mine for a long time and I feel like the degree is my passport to do what I’m called to do. I feel like I can make plans again rather than just living day by day. One of the things I appreciate most about my experience is that now I know I can serve people with dignity. That was one of the things I missed sometimes during my worst days and I will certainly give to those I serve during my new career.

Here are a few things to remember during Blood Cancer Awareness Month.

  1. There are people out there trying to live life. Do just a little thing to help them. Those little things could be the best part of a patient’s day.
  2. Volunteer. People are needed to provide time, resources, support to keep fighting the battle. As a patient, it helps to know that someone out there ‘has your back’ while they’re going to battle with blood cancer.

I give thanks each day to the LRF for the work they do. I also thank YOU, supporters of the LRF. for helping all of us who battle blood cancers.”