Please share your story:
Hello! My name is Nicole Munoz and I am 24 years old. Recently, I have become a two-time cancer survivor. First I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, stage 3B, in January 2009 when I was 16 years old. It all began with chest pains that increased, later to find a tumor the size of a fist in my chest. After 3 rounds of intensive chemotherapy and 28 sessions of radiation, I became cancer free in June 2009. I missed the second semester of my junior year of high school, but kept up as much as I could. When my friends were prepping for the ACT’S and thinking about college, I was hoping I could have a day without feeling terrible.
Since then, I graduated high school with honors and went to college. I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Clinical/Counseling Psychology in May 2014 with honors at Saint Xavier University. I also minored in Sociology. I worked in the disability field, working with both adults and children in the school setting and home setting. My last job was working as a Behavioral Health Specialist at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center for women with misc. disorders and addictions.
In late August/early September 2015, I noticed my stomach was extending and it was uncomfortable when I would lie down. When I would touch my lower stomach, it was very hard. I assumed it was some weight gain because I had to eat dinner in the diner at my last job with the residents and my activity level went down having to work 2nd shift. I decided to see my gynecologist just to make sure everything was okay.
I went to see her in late September 2015. After an internal exam, and feeling the hardness of my stomach, she told me I was 5 and ½ months pregnant. I was at a loss of words because I was on birth control, I had no pregnancy symptoms, and I was told conceiving a child could be difficult from my previous treatment for the Lymphoma. She sent me to get an ultrasound later that day to see my baby. I was 23 and pregnant, my life felt like it was turned upside down, but I also felt happy and like a miracle happened.
Unfortunately when we went to the ultrasound, there was no baby. Instead, a large mass was found that I later found out by a gynecological oncologist was attached to my uterus, bowel, and bladder. It expanded my cervix, and that is why it looked like a woman who is that far along in their pregnancy. In order to safely remove the tumor to diagnose it, I had to undergo a total hysterectomy on October 2nd, 2015. We had hopes of being able to save my ovaries to use a surrogate down the road, but we did not have the time to freeze eggs because of how rapidly the tumor was growing. The chance of ever having my own child was taken away from me at the young age of 23. I went into this surgery also hoping the tumor did not break and spread throughout my body, if in fact it was cancer. Thankfully, we were able to get the tumor out in one piece.
Unfortunately on October 9th, 2015, I was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma in my uterus and pelvis after being cancer free for a little over 6 years. This was not a secondary cancer to the Lymphoma, but a primary cancer that happened suddenly and out of nowhere. This is also a rare placement for Ewing’s Sarcoma; my doctors could not find literature on a case like mine going back 50 years. It was so rare that a medical journal was written on my case. I come from a town that was known to have contaminated water for over 20 years, resulting in many of the residents getting cancer. From the details of my illnesses, it looks as if these environmental factors played a role in developing these cancers.
Treatment for the Sarcoma called for 17 rounds of chemotherapy that took about a year to complete. I began my first treatment on October 26th, 2015 and each round of chemotherapy required a hospital admission for constant fluid hydration. After 17 rounds and hospital admissions, some setbacks and extra admissions for fevers, and a sepsis scare, I became cancer free for the second time on October 3rd, 2016. Chemotherapy was very intense for me since this was my second cancer. This cancer was much different than the first. I was lucky enough to have a great team of doctors of many specialties to help with everything that affected me. Even though I am done with treatment, you do not go back to “normal” the day after. You go into recovery and that takes time, effort, and a lot of strength and energy. Each day I wake up I tell myself it gets better each day. Yes it hurts to walk and bend because all my muscles are recovering, but I know I have to work through the pain. I am on the road to recovery!
How has your story shaped who you are today?:
My story has shaped me into a stronger, more appreciative person. I thank my cancer; although it caused pain and sadness, it also gave me courage, beauty, and appreciation for being alive. It helped me realize I have a purpose in this life and I want to help other young adults facing cancer.
What compelled you to share your story on our blog?:
I think my story can help other young adults with cancer as well as help me. Even though I am in remission, it still helps me when I find new outlets of support and make new relationships with others who simply get it.
What encouraging words would you give to someone who shares a similar story?:
For anybody newly diagnosed with cancer, let your emotions come out. Be sad, be angry, cry, do what you need to do. Then stand tall and say, “I have cancer, cancer does not have me.” That was my words to live by, and it is great to change it to “I HAD cancer, cancer NEVER had me.” Know that you have many support systems. Do your best to stay positive. Cancer changes your life, but make sure to have fun and try new things. For example, I would have never done a photo shoot until getting diagnosed again. You are going to be okay. Make yourself known. I am doing everything I can to get my name out there to spread awareness. You will hear more about me, I promise you! Remember, cancer does not have you!