What were her symptoms?
At the beginning of 2002, she got what appeared to be a cold/sinus infection. In hindsight, from pictures, we could see she didn’t look well the previous Thanksgiving. She couldn’t seem to kick that “cold”. She had a cough that continued getting worse, but she lived on her own, was working full time, going to school, and partying like any 22-year old would, so you write off a lot of it. There was also a rash which she wrote off to an allergic reaction to baby oil; however it really did concern her as she had mom examine it and read medical dictionaries trying to understand what it was. [A classic Hodgkins symptom.] She would cough until she had to bend over to get a good breath and lots of times would vomit from the relentless coughing. Any activity was causing her to quickly become out of breath, and she complained a couple times to mom that her heart or the left side of her chest hurt.
From time to time Liz would stay with mom and one morning mom walked by as she was sleeping and noticed her face was swollen and the vein down the center of her forehead was protruding. Mom asked me to come over and see what I thought, she was clearly worried. I was shocked when I saw my sister (she’d gotten so thin). I confirmed what mom was feeling ~ something was seriously wrong, but we never dreamed just how wrong. At 22, you never expect it to be life-threatening.
Sometime late June/early July we found a clinic. They did blood work, gave her antibiotics (which she couldn’t even swallow) and ordered a chest x-ray. It would take her until August 9th to make herself go get that x-ray.
On August 10, 2002 I was sitting on the deck of the Queen Mary watching the Catalina Ski Race when my cell phone rang, …and life as I knew it would never be the same.
Seventeen days, multiple scans and biopsies later, she was diagnosed with Stage IIIb Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and had her first chemo treatment.
There was a tumor over 6” (16cm x 18 cm) across her chest wall which had wrapped itself around her trachea (which was why she was having such a hard time swallowing the horse pills the doctors were prescribing and why she was having such a hard time getting a good breath) and the superior vena cava (the main vein in the body), and had shoved her heart slightly to the left. This is why she coughed so much, could hardly breathe, why her face swelled at night, her vein work was so visible, and why it felt like her heart hurt.
She received six months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation, but the disease came back within three months. She had an autologous stem-cell transplant (her own) in May of 2004, and for almost a year she was cancer free, but again, it came back. That would be the longest period she would ever be cancer free. There were a few “stable” periods where it was “managed”, and a few times she got to “no sign of disease”, but it always came back by her three-month checkup.
Though she didn’t get to live the life she envisioned for herself, by the Grace of God, she made the best of an awful situation and managed to LIVE a lot of life in her short time here on earth, and for that we are so grateful. She was more than just my baby sister, she was the child I never had, my best friend and confidant, and I miss her beyond words. She brought out the goofy in me; made everything fun. She’d text or call between 11pm and midnight and say, “Sis, you awake?” to which I’d respond, “Well, I am now”.