Click For Hope

cancer free

"I have cancer, cancer does not have me."

CancerJasmine LopezComment

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!

Climbing the Mountain called Cancer

Cancer, ClickforhopeJasmine LopezComment

Please share your story: : It started early in the summer of 2016. I was breastfeeding my daughter, Savanna and I started to have some redness and hardness in my breast. She completely refused to go anywhere near that breast, so I knew something was off. Following my husbands request, I went to the doctor. I was diagnosed with mastitis. I was given antibiotics and was sent on my way. This went on for a couple of months. Nothing was making it better, if anything, it was getting worse. My doctor then sent me to a surgeon-thinking there was a blockage or something that might need to be taken care of. After a couple weeks under his care, and a negative ultrasound, he said, "it should be better by now, we need to do a biopsy." In this middle of all of this craziness, I did a bit of research. I came across something called Inflammatory Breast Cancer. I fell to the floor as I told my husband about it, everything that was written on it, just fit how I was feeling and my symptoms. It was Monday, September 19 when I was at work, anxiously waiting for the call from the doctor about the biopsy results. I looked at my TimeHop for the day, and realized that 2 years ago on that date, we found out I was pregnant-after a year of trying. When I realized this, I knew the news wasn't going to be good. I felt like this was a sign from God that He sent me this baby girl to help me through what was about to happen in my life. I wanted the news to be good, but deep down, I just knew it wasn't. Then I got the call that confirmed it, "I'm sorry, it's not good news, it's cancer." I immediately called my husband hysterical, called my mom and left work to go be with my daughter and husband. The next couple of weeks were filled with appointments and scans, and they all seem to be a blur. It was the most absolute terrifying weeks of my life. My instincts were right, I was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Anyone that searches this online knows that there is nothing good about it. The stats aren't good, the prognosis isn't good, it's just not good. Every time I talked to a doctor, the first thing I would say is, I just wanna watch my baby grow up. That's all I thought about and still is. I started chemo a couple weeks after the day of diagnosis. Chemo sucks. I have really great friends and family that helped with so much during this time. I didn't feel good enough or have the energy to do some everyday tasks and they all were there for me helping. The one constant is that fiery little red head of mine. No matter how I felt, no matter how much I wanted to stay in bed all day, I had to get up and take care of her. People couldn't be with me everyday and I didn't want them to be. Savanna kept me going, I call her my little life saver. I will never be able to explain to her what she did for me. I also dramatically changed my lifestyle. From the food I ate to the products I was putting on my body. I tried to have as little stress in my life that I could. I finished chemo on January 18 and was so relieved for that chapter to be over. After the 2 chemo sessions, I really saw changes in my breast, by the end, my doctor couldn't tell that anything was ever there. It was back to 'normal', but it still had to go. I had surgery on March 1, a double mastectomy with lymph node removal and I chose not to get reconstruction. I'm so grateful to say that the cancer treatment worked. I had a PET scan before surgery that came back clear, and the pathology report from surgery came back with a complete pathological response. Hallelujah! I still have to do radiation as part of the IBC treatment protocol. I am prepping to start that next month. I have learned so much through this and I feel like I'm a different person than I was 6 months ago. I have a new outlook on life. I hate cancer, but I love what it did for me and my life. I will continue to live as healthy of a lifestyle that I can so I can do what I can to prevent this from ever coming back. Take that cancer!

How has your story shaped who you are today?: I'm a different person. I physically don't recognize the woman in the mirror, bald and boobless, but I really don't recognize WHO I am. I don't want to be the same person I was before cancer, I want to be better. When faced with your own mortality, you think very deeply about life. I appreciate everyone in my life so much more now. I'm so grateful to be alive and I never want to take advantage of being so ever again. I want to live life to the fullest. And I will.

What compelled you to share your story with us?: I was at the Beautiful event last weekend and was so inspired with all the women there to support one another. It's incredible what we can do if we all just work together and be there for one another.

What encouraging words would you give to someone who shares a similar story?: You got this! Don't doubt yourself, ever. You can do this and you will do this. It's ok to be scared, cancer is a large mountain to climb but you can do it! And you ARE beautiful, even when you don't feel so.

Life before and after Breast Cancer

Clickforhope, Breast CancerJasmine LopezComment

Please share your story: : It was a Saturday in May of 2014. I was laying on my couch watching tv when my little pup climbed up on my chest. Where he stepped on me hurt, like someone pressing deep on a bruise. I touched the area and instinctively pushed around. Then I placed my hand on my other breast. All I can say is they felt different. Because I was only 33 years old, I talked myself out of it meaning anything. Until I noticed it was uncomfortable to sleep on my belly. I looked up how to properly do a self breast exam, and did one. And felt the same lump on my right side. Standing there in the bathroom, wrapped in a towel, I called my gynecologist. I had to wait 4 days to get in. I researched like crazy and found so many encouraging things. Things like 80% of lumps aren't cancerous. Cancer doesn't cause pain. Risk factors of obesity, drinking and smoking...none of those applied to me. Check, check, check. It must be a cyst. I saw the PA at my gynecologists office, and she said she wanted me to get an ultrasound, and then a mammogram if they felt it was necessary. 2 more days of waiting. As I laid there on the ultrasound table, I knew that I had cancer. She was taking way too long. And were those tears in her eyes? She knows. I know. I have CANCER. I had the mammogram, and got called in to the radiologist. He told me I needed a biopsy. That is all I remember. I called the surgeon who operated on my mother, and the fastest appointment they would give me was the following week. More waiting. Until my gynecologist called the next morning and asked when I got scheduled for a biopsy, I told her, and she then said words I will never forget. She said "the radiologist called and he's very concerned, and I am very concerned. I want you to have the biopsy today". I knew it...I knew it in my head but now I knew it in my heart. I had cancer. How could I possibly have cancer? My surgeon excused my mother and boyfriend from the room when doing the biopsy. It was just him and me. I asked him point blank if he thought it was cancer. I was ready for the crappy response of "let's wait and see". But he didn't say that. He touched my arm gently and said "yes, I do. But I am going to take care of you". When my cancer was confirmed days later, I was ready for the news. Ready to fight like hell. But I cared most about 1 thing. I hadn't had the chance to have kids yet. In 1 month, I had a mastectomy, genetic testing, underwent fertility preservation and started chemo. I was officially diagnosed with stage 2B ER+ Sentinel node positive axillary node negative breast cancer. I was very open about my battle, creating a private Facebook group for people to follow my story and encourage me along the way. It was my own personal army. I blogged weekly, pouring my heart out for anyone who cared to read it. And I kept moving forward. I went back to work when I was cleared to (I'm a pediatric physical therapist). It was then I shocked my team of doctors by asking if I could run in the Chicago Marathon, which would take place in between my 6th and 7th rounds of chemo. I had already signed up to run in honor of a patient of mine who lost his battle with a brain tumor. I knew I may only be able to get across the start line, but I didn't care. I just wanted permission to try. My oncologist said I could do as much as I wanted to do. And that gave me another purpose to fight on for during my treatment. I'm proud to say I finished 14 miles of the marathon that year, making Charity a Row my finish line. Every step out on the street that day made me forget that I was a cancer patient. I may not have crossed the finish line, but I will always think of that race as my best race of all time. I proved to everyone around me, and myself, that cancer may have chosen me but I chose to fight back and refuse to let it own who I am.
I went back and ran the marathon again in 2015, celebrating 1 year cancer free, and crossed that finish line.
I sit here now, just over 2 years cancer free, reflecting on how much life has changed for me since that May weekend back in 2014. Life will never be the same after you've been told you have cancer...but it reminds you that the time you have left is a gift.

How has your story shaped who you are today?: I found a strength, a passion and courage in myself that I never would have known I had, had I not been faced with cancer. Cancer has helped me relate to the children and families whom I work with on a different level now. I am open about my story, my journey, and I think it helps to know that they are working with someone who has "been there too".

What compelled you to share your story?: If I could get one message out, it's that I wish for all women who are faced with this terrible diagnosis to know that they are brave. They are strong. They will continue on, they will fight the beast and they can be the one in control. I took control when I somehow managed to run 14 miles of a marathon in the middle of my chemo treatments. I missed only 1 day of work because of pink eye. Otherwise I got up everyday, and lived my life exactly as I wanted to live it. I decided how I was going to feel that day and what I was going to do. And I wish the same for anyone who is in the same shoes.

What encouraging words would you give to someone who shares a similar story?: There are good days, and there are bad days but every day you get up and keep going, you win.

Tshirts: Hope 25

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Cancer | Part 2 | Tim's Story

Testicular Cancer, Cancer, ClickforhopeJasmine LopezComment
"The constant reality of my frail humanity forces a celebration of each day on this earth, and reminds me of the countless invisible threads that form everyone around me; I must be compassionate." -Tim

Please share your story:

I can still remember the very specific point in time when the course I charted for myself and that of my body diverged. I became quite sick midway through high school, and the best and brightest I visited were befuddled by what it might be. Tests were inconclusive; traditional evaluations pointed everywhere and nowhere. It seemed like the flu, came on like the flu, passed like the flu, and yet it wasn’t the flu.

My parents and I moved on; I didn’t ‘feel’ sick any more. I was busy in high school and was never the type to sit still for very long. But something was different: my heart skipped a beat sporadically; my ears rung; my joints hurt; my stomach was never settled; my head ached; my memory was not so sharp. But I never thought of these things as related. They were part of my day-to-day, and for the most part they were a low din not worth dealing with. Plus, I was growing and active: it could have been any number of things, I thought.

Life flew by. I met and fell hard for an amazing woman, a high school crush. I went to a great college. My crush became my girlfriend, who went to college a few towns away. My girlfriend became my fiancé and I graduated; with my fiancé now wife, I moved to Chicago. We studied, we worked, we struggled, we traveled. Each day we fell more in love, each day life got a little better, and yet each day I felt a little bit worse. Imperceptible changes added up to noticeable realities over the years. We lived abroad, we challenged ourselves, we challenged each other, we brought life into the world. I almost didn’t notice the skipping heartbeat becoming more sporadic; my ears roared and my joints ached. My stomach swirled; my head pounded. I never slept. My memory failed.

We saw specialists, tons of them, who checked everything, finding almost nothing, except small masses in my lungs and brain that were inconclusive, distinct memory loss and verbal retention issues, voids where my spinal cord had been eaten away, bones fusing together. They all seemed to be leftovers; every test suggested I was as healthy as could be, as if we could see the wreckage from a tornado but no proof that one had ever passed through. I took pills, lots of pills and gave myself shots. Doctors and nurses successfully destroyed my immune system, sending me to the hospital with meningitis and encephalitis, probably from a cold floating around our house. We had no answers, and worse, we had no proof— only wreckage.

This ghost of an illness started creating gaps in our family fabric. Beth was afraid to be intimate for fear of getting me sick. Our son knew I was fragile. I knew I was. We changed our life plans; we denied our desire to bring more life into an uncertain future. We grieved. I questioned myself: was it all in my head? I wanted some real, active, living proof that what I was feeling could somehow be measured. I hated feeling foolish for seeking answers; I desperately wanted resolution. I wanted something that we could treat, something that could restore our family hopes, something that removed my guilt for what this had done to my family.

I learned to cope, to ignore, to push through, to accept my fate. We grew our family, adding two more beautiful people into our world. We lived and we loved. I ignored the deep, hidden longing for proof, a silent prayer that we would one day find something.

And we did: in February of this year, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. I must admit I had been jealous of some of the cancer patients I’d seen at the hospital— they had something real; they had something that had a game plan. I guess now I did too. We had SOMETHING to treat, finally. We were aggressive: I went under the knife to remove two tumors and a testicle, and a week later my appendix. We jumped at the chance to do a heavy round of chemo to remove what the surgery could not.

And now we wait: to see if the treatment worked, to see if the treatment resolved any of my other issues, preparing ourselves for the possibility that it didn’t. And we live. And we love.

How has your story shaped who you are today?

I don’t remember my childhood. I have Polaroids floating in my head of a few moments but I’m not certain if they are real or recollections from photo albums. I don’t know what it feels like to wake rested. I don’t know how music sounds without the ringing in my ears adding to the composition. I am constantly aware of my body, because its painful reminders mark my every step.

I know the fragility, the temporality of my body. And to be honest, I wouldn’t change it.

The constant reality of my frail humanity forces a celebration of each day on this earth, and reminds me of the countless invisible threads that form everyone around me; I must be compassionate. I reinforce what little my brain understands by reading faces and lips; I must be present. And those lost markers of masculinity—strength, virility, appendage, confidence— remind me of what really defines me. I am vulnerable and human.

What compelled you to share your story?

Hope is not about seeking the answer I want, but accepting the lesson in my journey. My hope is no longer for physical healing, but for spiritual growth, for being rather then becoming.

What encouraging words would you give to someone who shares a similar story?

I’ve always wondered if the next bit of bad news would wreck my faith, if whatever was around the corner would be my faith’s downfall. If the physical, emotional, relational strain would ever be too much for my bride, my family, or my faith. If every future trial had been revealed to me so many years ago in high school, I’d have long given up. If every moment of strength, of hope, of love, of opportunity were revealed, I’d want all of it.

I don’t know what the future holds— I don’t know how we will be tested, or if my body will ever know comfort. What I do know is that from every trial we’ve found opportunity; from every challenge, hope; from every weakness, strength.