Adriana's Story: "It's just cancer. I'm going to be alright."
By: Adriana Lombardo
I was seventeen and in Grade 12 when I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).
It was December 1, 2014, a Monday morning, when I was trying out for soccer and the coach told us to run some laps. I maybe took about five steps and immediately started to feel a sharp pain in my chest. I couldn’t breathe. The assistant coach took me to the office and we called my mom so she could pick me up. My lips were turning blue and I couldn’t catch my breath. I sat there waiting for my mom, perhaps for only fifteen minutes, but it felt like an eternity. I was always working out and watching what I ate so I couldn’t be sick – at least I thought I wasn’t.
My mom arrived and decided to take me to the Emergency Department at Toronto General Hospital where they took me in right away and immediately ran an ECG which came back clear. I still didn’t know what was causing my shortness of breath. After they gave me a bed, they did an X-ray and took blood. After a short while, the nurse came back and wanted to do more blood work. That was when I knew something was wrong. It wasn’t long after that when the haematology team came to deliver news that would change my life: “Adriana, your blood results show you have leukemia.” I started crying and yelling that I had just applied to college and that I needed to graduate with my friends. That lasted a solid fifteen minutes because then something came over me. I sat up in bed and told my mom that I was going to be okay: “It’s just cancer; I’m going to be all right.”
The "new normal"
I spent that night at Toronto General Hospital because the next day I was going to be admitted to Princess Margaret Cancer Centre for the next month. I had my bone marrow biopsy done that following day which I was not scared for because it still did not phase me what I was going through yet. By Thursday, I had my Hickman line put in and I had my first chemo that evening.
After spending twenty-three days in hospital—and being on steroids and a cocktail of medications—I was finally discharged on Christmas Eve. While in the hospital, I lost a total of twelve pounds because I couldn’t eat with all the mouth sores I had gotten over the past two weeks. I had little to no energy which was frustrating as I was always active. Going home was going to be scary. As exciting as it was for my family, it was quite terrifying for me because I didn’t know what to expect. I had to get used to this “new normal”. There would be no nurses around if I needed them. I almost felt more alone in my own home surrounded by family than I had ever did while being in the hospital.
Being an out-patient and getting used to my itinerary was quite interesting. I tell people that I don’t live by a regular calendar anymore but by my medical calendar. During the first couple of months of being an out-patient, I had put back on all of my weight and then some because I was on a heavy dose of steroids. I found over these months of treatment that I just kept gaining weight, and that was the most challenging to accept. Because I took high-pride in my looks prior to cancer, having all of these physical changes, and at such a young age, was very hard for me. There were days where I wouldn’t look into a mirror because I didn’t recognize the person looking back anymore. But I know that this is all temporary and that it will all be over soon.
I have finally learned to accept my looks with a lot of confidence, but it definitely was a big hurdle. I can look back when this is over and appreciate this experience because I have learned a lot about myself and those around me. Cancer may have changed my outlook on life, but it has not changed my optimistic, positive, and outgoing spirit.
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