Navigating the Journey Through Cancer: Jean's Story

This article was written exclusively for LymphomaInfo.net by Jean LaMantia, author of “The Essential Cancer Treatment Nutrition Guide and Cookbook.” Jean shares how her experience with lymphoma fueled her passion for being a dietitian.

I was only 27 years old when I went to work and complained to my nurse colleagues about my stiff neck. Being nurses, they said: “Jean, you've had that stiff neck for a week now. Go to the doctor and get it checked out.” So I did. My family doctor did X-rays, and nothing was there.

When my contract as a registered dietitian at a diabetes education centre was over, I happily packed up my few possessions and moved them back into storage at my parents' house and set off on a backpacking adventure to Mexico and Central America. I was 27 after all with no ties to keep me anywhere; I was done with my contract and knew I would get another one when this latest backpacking, Spanish-immersion adventure was over.

Worsening Symptoms

The stiff neck came along for the trip and introduced a new friend – fatigue. I continued my studies for the month, traveled around Mexico, then set off into Central America.

I visited Belize, wondered at the beauty of Guatemala and then met with a medical mission group in Honduras. I was a volunteer worker/translator with a group that was serving on an "eye mission" – performing eye surgery and fitting people with glasses.

After several months of travel, I returned home and gave blood at a blood donor clinic. It was after the donation that I really felt sick – heaviness in my chest, pain in my throat, overall feeling unwell. That was the beginning of the diagnosis of stage II-B extensive Hodgkin's lymphoma – seven months after my original stiff neck.

A Big Change

Thus began my journey to be a better dietitian and a better person. The treatment included six months of ABVD chemotherapy and, after that, a month of radiation. It was in this experience I realized the extent that nutrition is affected by cancer. Before this, I thought nausea was that little uneasy feeling I got from being in the car for too long. What I experienced during cancer treatment was such a different beast that it always baffled me that is has the same name.

It's been almost 20 years since I was treated for cancer, but I can recall the experience vividly if I allow myself to. I do this when I need to remember what it was like to experience a certain side effect – one that I am writing about, researching or answering a question about.

I'm a better dietitian now because I can understand what my clients are going through. My professional experience, my proclivity for research, my own experience with cancer, the experience of caring for my father during his cancer are all part of the package that went into writing my book – The Essential Cancer Treatment Nutrition Guide and Cookbook. It's also contained in my blog 'Cancer Bites,' interviews and webinars that I provide on my website, and it's what will go into launching my new business this fall.

Like a seasoned backpacker, I know what's essential to put into my pack for an extended tour. In the same way, I know what nutrition to pack to make a difference on your journey with cancer. It's my mission to serve cancer patients, caregivers, survivors and nutrition professionals to provide them with the nutrition knowledge and practical know-how to prepare them for their expedition.

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