Hi, my name is Tim Woodside, and this is my story on how lymphoma has changed my life.
It all started about five years ago when I was working for the local summer festival in my hometown. We were traveling all over the county gathering ideas and recruiting talent for our festival. I started having pains in my abdomen every couple of days, but I didn’t think anything of it. I just figured it was all the carnival food and beer we were consuming over the summer. As the months went on the pain got a little worse, but I still didn’t think anything of it. I talked to our nurse at work and he thought it was maybe an ulcer, so I tried some medicine. It didn’t really help at all.
After about nine or 10 months of this, I finally let my wife talk me into getting checked out. I went to the doctor, and she set up a cat scan for that Saturday. I then proceeded to return to my daily activities, including lifting weights. The following morning, I awoke about 2 a.m. in agonizing pain. I stumbled to the bathroom, but it didn’t help. I made my way back to the couch and finally fell asleep after an hour or so. My wife woke me up in the morning for work and I told her what had happened. She went to take a shower and I fell back asleep. I finally got up and figured I’d take a shower, go to work and walk it off. About two minutes into the shower I was almost crying it hurt so bad. I called my wife back to pick me up and take me to the emergency room.
They ran some tests throughout the day and kept me overnight for observation. The first person I saw was a lovely nurse practitioner who delivered the horrible news to me. I can say she is lovely now, but at the time I was not happy with her diagnosis. Then again, who would be? I then met with the oncologist and she explained how to proceed. After a biopsy I was diagnosed with Stage 4 follicular lymphoma. After some uncomfortable tests and some nasty words, I accepted the diagnosis and was released.
About two weeks later I went to the local cancer center to begin my treatments, which wasn’t too bad because my mother was already being treated there for lung cancer. I had heard her talking about the cancer center, but I didn’t really expect it to be what it was. I figured there would be a bunch of elderly people sitting around dying; it was an eye-opening experience. There were a few people there who were not much older than me, and everyone was nice. A bunch of patients there greeted me when I came in, and they didn’t really push a conversation until I started talking first. Those people, along with the nurses, made me feel super comfortable and almost at home. I know my situation was not nearly as bad as my mom’s, and seeing her being tough there and never letting it get her down really gave me the strength to get through my situation. As sad as it sounds, I welcomed the experience because it gave -my mother and I something to relate to with each other. Nobody else really knew what we were experiencing because they weren’t going through it themselves. All the thoughts I had I can’t even imagine what was going through her head—but the fact this brought us together and made her last couple of years easier makes it all worth it, I think.
I took her passing the hardest because I have always been closest with her. My younger sister and I did the most for her, and we were her favorites—me more so. Ha ha! I used to call her every day on my way home from work just to chat. We talked about daily things going on in our lives. I think that’s what I miss the most about not having her around. I still try to keep the tradition alive by writing to her every night on Facebook. I try taking a picture every day of what I am doing so I can send it to her, kind of like a diary entry. That was one thing she really liked doing. I also do it to keep other family members up to date on what is going on in my life, which she would normally have relayed. As the months pass I don’t miss her any less, but I do find it harder to write every night. That really upsets me because I know if I miss a few nights here and there, eventually I won’t be doing it at all, and then my memory of her will slowly fade away. That scares me more than anything. Not being able to talk to her is bad, but not remembering her is a lot worse.
I still call grandma every week to keep her up to date on the happenings in the family. They live in Ohio and we live in Pennsylvania. It is really good to hear her voice, but sometimes it’s tough because all I do when I’m talking to her is think about Mom and all the times as a kid I went there and had some of the best times of my life. I think grandma needs this too because Mom used to call her every night after I started calling Mom every day.
One of the biggest changes that has come about from this whole ordeal is my relationship with people. A lot of my friends don’t come around anymore because for about two years I didn’t like to hang out and drink. The beer was just making me sick, and I figured there were other things I needed to focus on. I have made a few new friends who are having similar problems and have opened a few old friendships from high school that I thought were lost forever.
I now also have a newfound respect for nurses in all fields of medicine. All the nurses I have met since this whole ordeal started have been some of the nicest people. I see how they go out of their way to make sure others are comfortable and taken care of, putting patients way before their own needs. The nurses at the cancer center are absolutely amazing. Months after Mom’s passing, they would ask how Dad was doing. Even now, three years later, some of them tell stories about remembering her. That is one thing that makes it hard to go there every month. I will always see her there every time.
The best thing that came out of this whole debacle is that it brought me and my wife a lot closer as a couple. Our relationship has grown exponentially since day one. We have been going on little trips, and I have been giving her almost all my time. Instead of going out drinking with my friends I pack up the Jeep and we will go on a day trip somewhere, and just enjoy each other’s company. She has been an amazing help from the first doctor appointment to every treatment and infusion. She always goes with me and is always by my side. Sometimes I’m so tired that I sleep most of the time, but she still won’t leave in case something happens and she wants to be there. I see a lot of patients at the cancer center who just get dropped off and people don’t come back for a few hours. I feel so bad for them that they go through that alone. One big regret I have is that I never went to visit Mom at her treatments. Even while we were both getting treated, I think I only went twice in a whole year. I did get a tattoo of her on my shoulder/chest right over my port, so she can always look over me when I get treated.
In closing, as bad as this disease is I know there are a lot of people out there worse off than I am. I try to keep my spirits raised and use humor to help me get through it, but deep down I’m pretty scared about the whole thing. Even though a lot of good has come out of this, I still wish there was an alternative way that would have brought my mother and me closer. It is what it is, so I am just making the best of a bad situation. I hope this has helped someone understand what this disease is capable of doing. Here’s hoping to a cure someday, so maybe some son won’t have to write this about his mom ever again!
This article was written by MyLymphomaTeam member Tim as part of the My Perspective series. Tim is married, works full-time, and doesn’t believe in letting things bring him down.
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