When I was 28 years old and a new mom with a 10 month old, I was finally told what had been causing horrible symptoms and a full body rash for over a year but no one could diagnose: it was lymphoma. Cancer. Angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma, which is an incredibly rare type that mostly occurs in elderly patients. I was a young mom with her whole life ahead of her. I had to stop working as a retail pharmacist and undergo 6 months of really difficult chemo treatment and what felt like endless hospital stays.
I was in remission for 3 years and lucky enough to have another baby. When he was 7 months old, I found a rash on my arm. I called my cancer center and they sent me in for a scan and a skin biopsy. The lymphoma was back. This time we knew that we needed a bone marrow transplant. Out of my three siblings, our best option was my brother who was a 6/10 match. I received a phone call that I had no match on the bone marrow registry and I felt like my world started to fall apart. We went ahead with an autologous bone marrow transplant with my own stem cells, knowing it probably wouldn’t be curative but would buy us some time to weigh our options. About 5 months later the lymphoma reared its ugly head again. I went to my appointment ready to discuss options and make some hard choices. Instead, they told me that they checked the international registry again and I had a 10/10 match in Germany, and he was willing to donate. I cried happy tears! (And so did a lot of my friends and family!)
In March 2019 I had a bone marrow transplant with my donor’s cells. I was isolated from my kids and family because of the high risk of infection. When my community learned that I would have to be isolated for months, they all came together and made me a “Rays of Sunshine” box. One quote that I used to keep me going was “Keep your face toward the sunshine and the shadows will fall behind you.” My friends, neighbors, fellow preschool parents, and even strangers in the community put cards, letters, jokes, and messages in the box with the goal of having 90 messages. During my 90 days away from home I had a new card or note every morning to open and help lift my spirits, make me laugh, or give me some inspiration to keep pushing through this impossibly hard time. Some of my most meaningful and impactful cards were from complete strangers. It helped so much to know that people were cheering me on from afar and rooting for me.
In creating Rays of Sunshine, I hope to pay it forward by giving young adult patients undergoing a bone marrow transplant/stem cell transplant a box of inspirational and caring messages from people so that they too can have something to lift their spirits every day.