Coping with Chronic Cancer: Cheri's Story, Part III


This three-part article was written exclusively for by Cheri Monaghan. In March of 2012 at the age of 33, Cheri was diagnosed with stage IV incurable non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. This is her story.

Click here to read Part I.

I decided that I wanted to start my chemotherapy as soon as I possibly could. I was going to be getting four rounds of R-CHOP. I got my port at the end of March and my first round of chemo the next day. (I feel that it is important to say that not everyone has the same reaction to chemotherapy. My body reacted very differently than most.) I had an anaphylactic reaction to the Rituximab. Instead of stopping the chemo they simply ran it very slowly – it took eight hours for all my medications to infuse.

I had three weeks to recover between treatments. Most feel the effects of chemo about three days later, whereas my difficult days were days five and six. And it wasn’t until my last round that we realized I was suffering from severe dehydration. My doctors and I decided that I should get fluid boluses every other day for the first week post-chemo. Those boluses were exactly what I needed.

Making It Through

Each day after chemo I had to go back into the clinic to get a Neulasta injection. The Neulasta would make my body produce more white blood cells to fight infection. The side effect of Neulasta is extreme long bone and pelvis pain due to the bone marrow making more white blood cells. The pain generally hits most patients about two days after the injection, whereas I did not feel the pain until at least a week later. This was yet another reaction that surprised my doctors. Aside from coming down with a case of the shingles, the Neulasta did its job and I made it through the four rounds of chemo.

At the end of June I started radiation therapy to my neck. The worst part of radiation was the burn. There is nothing that can be compared to a radiation burn. Because my neck was being treated with radiation I had a constant sore throat and thrush. My taste buds were also affected. Everything tasted weird, and it took at least a month after I finished radiation for my taste buds to get back to normal. I endured a little over a month of radiation. At the end of July of 2012 my treatment was complete, and I gave myself a month to recover before starting back to work.

Coping with Chronic Cancer

It has been a little more than 15 months since I finished treatment. Mostly it all seems like a blur. All of my post-treatment scans and blood work have been clean. At this point we are just taking a wait-and-see approach with the cancer in my bone marrow. The cancer will resurface; it’s just a matter of time.

I’m still getting used to living with a chronic cancer. It is by no means easy. I take comfort in knowing that I can help others with my story. It is something that gives me great joy. I’ve met so many amazing people along my journey and I am so grateful for that. Never once did I think that this cancer would win. Not once. I always knew that I would beat it, and I will continue to fight.

My advice to anyone starting on this journey is to remember that you are your best advocate. Do not be afraid to speak up. You know your body better than anyone else. Do not be afraid to ask questions. (I always wrote my questions down as I thought of them and then brought those questions to my appointments. There were times I’d ask the same question over and over again until it sunk in.) Remember that it is OK to have breakdowns. You do not have to be strong all the time. (When people would comment on my strength it made me feel like I had to work even harder to never breakdown. Most of the time, I felt like I was supporting the people closest to me instead of them supporting me. It was very difficult and very lonely.)

One thing that helped me was talking to the cancer therapists my oncology clinic provided. I also created a CaringBridge site so I could keep friends and family updated without having to constantly repeat myself. It was and still is hard when the top of so many conversations is cancer. Slowly I have become stronger both emotionally and physically. It is a work in progress. Do not become discouraged. Believe in yourself and never give up. Remember that you are worth the fight.

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