I never expected to be diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 19. I was a typical college student who became a cancer patient with the hopes of surviving and dreams of living another day.
My life completely changed on August 13, 2019.
I was going into my sophomore year of college. I looked and felt healthy. I was moving into an apartment with friends, and I was excited to reunite with my sorority sisters. Though that all changed when I felt a lump on the right side of my neck.
For a while, I was in shock. I simply couldn’t accept this change in my life. I was so angry at God. I resented Him for it. I had always believed that the Lord was with me in every aspect of my life. Through every tear, every laugh, every smile, and every heartache, Jesus was there. As His beloved daughter, I knew He did not want me to suffer, but I just couldn’t understand his reasons for this.
I began chemotherapy on August 26, 2019 at City of Hope.
I remember asking, “Why God? Why would You let this happen? Why would You allow this cancer to hold me back from the things I thought You wanted me to achieve?”
The more treatment I received, the weaker I became and the harder it was to stay alive. With the unbearable side effects of chemo — the excruciating migraines, nausea, fever, chills, weak bones, low immune system, hair loss, pale skin and constant pain — I was absolutely depressed.
I lost all confidence in myself. My new look was wearing a head wrap and a breathing mask with a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line, a long thin tube in my arm that’s connected to a pole of chemo bags which pumps the cancer-destroying medicine into my veins. I was very insecure before all of this, but for the first time how I felt on the inside had caught up to how I looked on the outside. I felt anything but beautiful. Cancer took over my identity.
I thank the Lord every day for blessing me with the most patient, nurturing, and loving family. My mom stopped teaching to be with me every day, and be my caretaker in and out of the hospital. My dad kept working, but took several days off and adjusted his schedule to fit in with the weeks I had chemo or doctor visits.
It was hard for my younger brother to understand and cope with this. He never wanted me to see him cry. I will never forget the time when he surprised me in my hospital room with his hair shaved, as he saw how hard it was for me to lose my hair.
Every step of the way, my family was always there for me and never made me feel like I was going to fight this battle alone.
Although treatment was hard, God wove blessings into the journey. The little things in life that I never noticed, I began to adore. Just being able to walk and feel the fresh air on my face, I became immensely grateful. My experience with cancer gave me a new profound love for God, my life and those around me.
I had just gone through a traumatic experience that most 19-year-olds don’t typically go through. My take on life, friendships and school changed for the better. It’s easy to take health for granted, but I couldn’t be more thankful to just be alive.
After rounds of chemotherapy, PICC line cleanings, oncologist visits, support groups, PET scans–– which measures changes in metabolic or biochemical changes in tissues and organs–– and endless amounts of medicine, I finally finished treatment.
I rang the bell on November 19, 2019.
Ringing the bell symbolized the end of my cancer treatment. I still remember the feeling I had – nurses and doctors cheering me on, my family smiling and crying tears of joy. I felt so loved by everyone around me. For the first time, I accepted myself as a survivor and was no longer ashamed or embarrassed of how I looked.
The numerous doctor appointments showed me how important it is to spend every day like it’s my last, to cherish every moment and appreciate the beauty of God’s creation.
I thought the hard part of cancer was over when I finished treatment, but the transition back to real life was harder.
My doctor advised me to take the whole year off and process what I went through — but I missed school, I missed my friends, I missed the old me. I would have done everything and anything to get back to that.
Coming back to campus, I slowly began to realize that I was no longer the same Lauren. With time, I learned to embrace the new me.
In the months following treatment, my outlook changed and my faith did as well.
Although I was still in a bad place and confused as to why God had put me through all that suffering, deep down I knew He would find His way back into my heart.
I believe God puts people into our lives for a reason. He did that when I met my best friend. I met her my first day back on campus–– I was so insecure and was hiding behind my wig. I didn’t know it at the time, but the Lord had sent me an angel that day.
Through our sorority, our friendship grew.
When we spoke about our faith, she saw the broken relationship I had with God. She invited me to a Bible study with other sorority sisters. After being hesitant and afraid, I finally went. I just knew I had to fix my relationship with God.
Through endless prayer, Bible study, attending mass and Catholic retreats I began to heal from my heartache with the Lord. I opened myself up to Him again and listened. I told him everything that I had been keeping up inside and He already knew and He was just waiting for me. He saw the tears, the suffering, and the agony cancer had on me, and he was there for me through every bit of it. I had grown so much in my faith that I found myself forgiving him and truly accepting him back into my life. Ever since then, I have felt so complete.
Suffering is not God’s plan for any of His precious creations. I have been inspired by so many other cancer survivors, have a family of doctors and nurses at City of Hope, and helped others cope with their own suffering. While we may be shocked by a diagnosis of cancer, God is not. He already knows how He is going to bring about something beautiful from it. God revealed to me that I was called to help other patients with cancer and shed light on such a dark time in their lives. To inspire others by sharing my story and show them that with faith, love, and hope, that one can truly do anything.
While I was being strong and courageous, the Lord was with me all along.