Coping with Chronic Cancer: Cheri's Story


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.

For years I suffered from heat intolerance and night sweats that were sometimes so bad I would have to change my pajamas and bedding in the middle of the night. I didn’t think much of it. I assumed it was related to my hypothyroidism.

In January of 2012 I had my regular yearly exam. My doctor looked me over thoroughly, and everything checked out just fine. About two weeks later I came down with a horrible sinus infection. It was a Saturday morning, and I was lying in bed assessing the lymph nodes in my neck when I came across a hard mass under the right side of my clavicle. I distinctly remember sitting up very quickly in bed and saying, “Oh, shit!”

I made an appointment with my primary care physician for later that day. He was skeptical of the mass and ended up just giving me some antibiotics and sending me on my way with instructions to call if the mass did not go away. A week later the mass had not changed, so my physician ordered a CT scan of my sinuses and the soft tissue of my neck.

The follow-up with my MD was not reassuring. I could hear him consulting with another physician about my scans outside my exam room. He came in and told me I needed to get a biopsy of the mass. He said it could just be a rogue lymph node, and then I said, “Or it could be cancer.” I knew it was lymphoma right away. I just knew it. And so the rollercoaster ride of biopsies, doctor visits, scans and extreme anxiety began.

Rollercoaster Ride

The biopsy took place on Feb. 17. They took specimens from five different places within the mass. The mass was close to my lung, and at one point I began feeling an intense sharp pain. They did an X-ray to check for a collapsed lung, and I was lucky enough to be in the clear.

I continued to work my crazy night shift schedule in the NICU at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, but on Feb. 21 the pain from the biopsy became so severe that I went in to have another X-ray of my lungs and a second CT scan to make sure everything was as it should be. At that point they found that I had what they believed to be a small clot in my right jugular vein. It was a clot that could have killed me very quickly had it dislodged and traveled to my lungs. I was eventually placed on Lovenox to thin my blood.

That afternoon I met with an ENT about having the mass removed and to get the biopsy results. Even though my blood work and biopsy came back normal, all of my doctors agreed that the mass should be removed. My ENT was uncomfortable removing the mass because it was too deep in my chest and there were major veins and arteries involved, so he sent me to a cardiothoracic surgeon.

My new surgeon looked at my scans, did a physical and scheduled the surgery, saying that I would probably only need to be off of work for a few days. The surgery was scheduled, and I was anticipating a quick recovery that would allow me to be back on my feet and working in no time. It was supposed to be a simple outpatient procedure.

Click here to read Part II.

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