September marks the start of Blood Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a time for survivors, advocates, and supporters to band together to share facts and research about blood cancers.
Blood cancers include:
According to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), more than 1.3 million Americans have a blood cancer or are in remission. Someone in the country is diagnosed with a blood cancer every 3 minutes.
But statistics and data are just one aspect of raising awareness about blood cancer. That’s why Blood Cancer Awareness Month is a time for real people to share the ways that blood cancer has impacted their lives.
In honor of this annual event, here are three stories of strength from people who’ve survived blood cancer.
On March 28, 2013, my life changed forever. After making several trips to the doctor’s office to check on an ongoing cough, night sweats, and weight loss — along with taking rounds of antibiotics that did not seem to help — I had a CAT scan that revealed I had stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I was 27 years old.
I wasn’t surprised that I was sick, given the many signs and symptoms I had been experiencing. But receiving a cancer diagnosis made me feel truly broken.
The months that followed were a rollercoaster of ups and downs as I endured chemotherapy, tried several medications, and underwent surgeries.
Then, there were the other challenges that popped up throughout the ordeal: a staph infection, blood clots, anxiety, and depression. It all became part of my journey to survival.
My oncology doctor and her team were attentive and made me comfortable throughout my cancer treatment. But I didn’t just rely on them for my needs — I decided to get involved in my care by researching my disease and asking questions about things I didn’t understand or had concerns with.
I became a self-advocate — something that’s still an important part of my identity 8 years later. I also felt it was important, after I got better, to share my survivorship story publicly and use my platform to reach a broader audience of people with cancer who need hope.
As a survivor, one of the major messages I offer to people who recently received a blood cancer diagnosis is to stay positive as much as possible. With that said, I also want them to know that it’s still OK to cry in those tough moments. Sometimes crying and praying or meditating helped me cope when I felt sad or anxious.
Having an amazing support group, including family and friends, to call on is also very important. If you don’t have that level of support (or you’re looking to grow your support network even more), check out the LLS.
It can connect you to someone who has gone through blood cancer through its peer-to-peer support program. You’ll have a real person you can ask about how to manage the same condition you’re coping with and what their experience was like.
My biggest takeaway from my cancer experience was realizing that life can change in a blink of an eye. Receiving a blood cancer diagnosis taught me to live my best life.
Surviving my battle against blood cancer also taught me that I am stronger than I ever thought — and that my strength can inspire someone else just like me.
Erica Campbell is the founder of Dzire2Survive, a cancer support and advocacy movement that provides education and up-to-date information for people with lymphoma disease, as well as their families. She’s also an inspirational speaker, cancer advocate, and a model. Her book “I Survived: From Cancer to the Runway” was published in March 2021.
My cancer diagnosis blindsided me like a hard-hit tackle. I was 17 years old and at the height of my high school football career.
Prior to my diagnosis, I had almost no symptoms, except for a large lump on my neck that I noticed when taking a shower. After a trip to the hospital and several tests, I received a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and began intense treatment right away.
My medical and radiation oncologists were very open and honest with me. They worked together to find a plan that would be the least harmful to my lungs because they knew I planned to play football again.
My treatment regimen, which included chemotherapy and radiation, was rough on me. I experienced unbearable side effects, such as painful ulcers, chronic fatigue, and neuropathy.
It was difficult spending countless days at the hospital, away from my family, friends, and the football field. I felt sick, weak, and reliant upon others, and I lost all my hair.
But throughout it all, my friends, family, and especially my mother were an incredible support system. They boosted my confidence and provided me with hope throughout my cancer journey.
I also found it helpful to join the LLS Community, an online social network for people with blood cancer, survivors, and caregivers. It’s a place to share experiences, stay informed, and get personalized support from trained LLS staff.
Just 4 months after my diagnosis, I rang the cancer-free bell. I soon graduated from high school with flying colors. And despite losing 50 pounds and a lot of muscle mass during my treatment, I still scored a college football scholarship.
I continue to share my survivorship story and volunteer with my local LLS Community to help raise awareness about the urgent need for blood cancer cures and access to care.
My experience with blood cancer taught me that life can change in a matter of seconds. Regardless of whether that change is for the better or the worse, it’s how you handle the change that matters. I fought for my life and health — and to get back on the football field.
I encourage others with blood cancer to take it one day, one test, one procedure, and one treatment at a time. The road may be long and rough, but it’s doable. Listen to your physicians and caregivers, follow their advice, and most of all, fight.
Kyle I. Frazier, 20, is an honors student at Savannah State University. He’s majoring in biology with a focus in kinesiology in hopes of one day becoming a sports rehab doctor and owning his own rehabilitation facility. He volunteers with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.
It was the beginning of the second semester of my Master’s program when I started to experience terrible pains in my chest. I was diagnosed with primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma, an aggressive type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I went on medical leave from my studies to treat my cancer.
After six cycles of a treatment called R-CHOP, which involves a combination of drugs, things were looking good. I was in remission, but this was not the only good news. I had also been awarded a fellowship to study in Taiwan, where I met a wonderful man who I’d eventually marry.
Unfortunately, while in Taiwan, I developed a persistent dry cough and symptoms that resulted in headaches and extreme exhaustion. It turns out I had relapsed. My fellowship was cut short and I went back to the United States for cancer treatment.
The initial treatment I tried this time didn’t work, so I sought care at the University of Maryland Medical Center. There, I received radiation, followed by CAR T-cell therapy. The side effects were not kind, but I’m pleased to say that I’m now in remission and in place where I can reflect on the experience and give back to others.
When you go through difficult situations, you learn to appreciate those in your life who are there for you. My parents were by my side throughout my treatment, medical appointments, and hospital stays. I am so grateful for their support.
While the man I met in Taiwan spent most of my treatments away from me (we were in a long-distance relationship), he made every effort to show his unwavering support, finally moving around the world to be with me. Now married, we work together to give back to the community, serving others affected by cancer.
I find joy by giving, as it helps redirect my focus on what I am able to control.
During the pandemic, I founded a nonprofit, Kits to Heart, that gives thoughtfully designed, curated cancer care kits to bring smiles and help alleviate stress for those going through treatment. We’ve given out more than 2,000 kits and counting.
I encourage others living with cancer and survivors to join as many support groups as possible. Take advantage of the many free or low cost services that can help you and your caregivers financially, mentally, and physically.
The more involved you are with people who understand and want to help you, the less you will feel alone or helpless.