Where were you when you were seventeen? Hanging out with your friends at Starbucks? Or having sleepovers after cheering at your high school football game? Or maybe you played video games after soccer practice with your buddies?
Enter Jennifer Anand from Ohio. The oldest of seven kids, she plays six instruments (Violin, piano, cello, organ, viola and accordion), and she and a few of her siblings play music biweekly at nursing homes, at church on Sundays and at children’s hospital benefit dinners. She loves to sew, knit, crochet, and haggle her way into a good deal.
In January 2012 Jennifer was just seventeen when she was diagnosed with Stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Unlike the average teenager with her life revolving around her hobbies, she was going from chemo to radiation appointments, worrying about her blood counts, medications and throwing up those medications.
When she finished six rounds of chemo and extensive radiation, she thought it was done. Then, on Christmas Eve 2012, she was officially diagnosed with a relapse. She had an autologous bone marrow transplant in March 2013, after which she was pronounced cancer free for a second time. Although this should have been happily ever after for Jennifer, in December 2014 she was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes, and the following February was diagnosed with autoimmune hemolytic anemia.
The once driven, strong and organized teenager was robbed of much of her high school and college experience. She could no longer live a carefree life or participate in all the extracurricular activities that her friends were in because of her decreased lung capacity, lack of energy or because she was too sick.
While her peers were freaking out about their latest pimple explosions, Jennifer was dealing with weight gain and bloating, the side effects of high-dose steroids—part of her cancer treatment.
Among other side effects, chemo caused her to lose her hair and vomit frequently, and radiation made her skin feel burned inside and out. Recovering from those side effects has been a long and bumpy road. Driving it, Jennifer has to remind herself that who she is as a person is more important than how she looks.
“It was really hard when my clothes didn’t fit, and my face looked super plump,” she recalls. “Some days I didn’t want to go out or see friends, because I felt like an ugly blob.”
How she copes: Jennifer says trying to remember that this struggle is only for a season was really helpful, that one day things will look up and be better. But it’s not about staying positive all the time.
“I found that sometimes I need to allow myself a few ‘negative’ moments. I need to cry, or vent, or somehow let it out. And then take a nap. When I wake up, everything is usually better.”
Her most memorable high point was the day she was released after her bone marrow transplant when she had stayed nearly 6-weeks in the hospital. It was almost 90 degrees F outside, which is unusual for Cleveland in April. She recalls sitting outside the Seidman Cancer Center, waiting for her dad to bring the car. “Feeling the warmth of the sun, the breeze, and smelling the outdoors is one of my happiest moments. You don’t realize how much you take for granted the weather until you never get to go outside.”
The in-hospital therapists made sure she had a lot of special moments throughout her treatment. Knowing her love for music, her music therapist put a keyboard in her room, and her art therapist introduced her to duck tape art, so she made wallets, purses, and a placemat set. She also made a plaster cast of her hand and dyed her first Easter eggs.
We all need ways to vent when we go through something like this, and Jennifer has an amazing blog, where she chronicles her journey. See it here. “Writing helps me unleash my emotions, and I often feel much better after having expressed myself.” Her posts also help her family and friends better understand what she’s going through, since it’s sometimes hard to verbally express it.
Her favorite quote is Randy Pausch’s “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” Pausch, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, died of pancreatic cancer in 2008, at the age of 47.
Although she’s not in perfect health, Jennifer still considers herself a happy person. “Whenever I don’t feel quite as happy, I remember that there are many people worse off than me, and that I have nothing to complain about!” She also says laughter is the best medicine, and that with six younger siblings; her home is always filled with it. She credits her family and her faith to helping her get through her cancer times.
Jennifer is using her experience to pay it forward. Right now she’s in her fourth out of 5 years of mechanical engineering at University of Akron, and her goal is to improve Young Adult Oncology in some way, maybe through clinical trials and drug delivery.
Her advice to other cancer patients is to just keep on keeping on. “The most important thing is to readjust your expectations; you’re not going to be able to do everything that you used to do, and that is OK. Just keep going today, and tomorrow will take care of itself.”
Jennifer’s two favorite LumpyCards products are the Ativan card and the chemo barf card, because, “it’s normally so hard to find an appropriate card to give to someone facing a diagnosis, as most of them don’t seem to address the severity or extent of the situation while incorporating it with humor.”
Are you interested in sharing your cancer story? Let’s get started! lumpycards.com/share-your-cancer-story