At 21 years old I was living my perfect life. I had a three-year-old son, a godly man by my side, a job I cherished as a police dispatcher, and I was an avid softball player, so my health was never a concern.
In November 2007, a walnut-sized lump on the left side of my neck was dismissed as an abnormality by my friends, family and I. Within weeks, lumps from ear-to-ear began growing along my jawline and neck.
I was in and out of the doctor’s office and sent home with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medicines, yet I questioned the reason “when you’re sick, your lymph nodes enlarge to fight off infection” because I hadn’t been sick in years.
The lumps continued growing, so I returned to the doctor in January.
X-rays, blood tests and the first scar of many to come from a biopsy. A “cloud” blocked my eyesight, my ears temporarily deafened, and my cheeks glistened from tears that would not stop flowing when I heard the news that I had cancer.
My boyfriend proposed, and we married. In March, I had a port-a-catch put into my chest, underwent CT scans, bone marrow biopsies and six treatments total that finished in July 2008. Finally, six hours of “red devil” chemotherapy, endless medications, upset stomachs, nausea and neuropathy were finally over!
The cancer was back. Six months after my last chemotherapy treatment, I had a scan after experiencing debilitating headaches, shooting arm pains and night sweats.
Suddenly there was talk of a stem cell transplant, and I was scared for my life. I was scared that my son would grow up without a mother.
All of my worries, concerns, fears, and questions were answered with confidence. I was excited to tackle this cancer once again all because I was blessed with Dr. Edward Agura at the Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center. I was told I needed to fill out a Power of Attorney and Will—that was not an option.
My three sisters were tested as my marrow donor, but none were a match. A 70 percent match was found on the Be The Match registry, but having a transplant with my own cells would be best. Overnight hospital stays for 24-hour chemo treatments left me immobile for one week following to prep for the transplant.
On June 27, 2009, I had an autologous stem cell transplant at Baylor. Every three months I had scans to ensure the cancer was in remission. I was excited for my one year scan because I had been doing everything right – eating healthy, exercising everyday and living a stress-free life.
July 16, 2010 I learned that the cancer was back once again. I couldn’t comprehend it. What did I do wrong? I was in a daze and lifeless. When I wasn’t sleeping, I was planning my own funeral.
Three weeks later I received the news that cleared away all of the clouds which had been making my future blurry. A male in his thirties living in the U.S. matched me 99 percent and just joined Be The Match! I could finally breathe again. Someone I’d never met literally signed up to save my life!
The third time is a charm.
I was admitted into Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas in September and received six-straight days of chemotherapy before I was blessed with my donor’s stem cells in October 2010.
It’s crazy what 27 days in a hospital can do. I saw a different kind of beauty in all things that move, make noise, stand still and fly. My hour ride home was a very quiet one as I sat there gazing out of the window, fascinated by all of my surroundings, reflecting on my life, praying for my donor and sincerely thanking God for my life.
On my one year “cancerversary,” I got a tattoo of a very special place where I twice called home and where I was given the dazzling life I live today.
I wear the Baylor flame proudly and courageously on my upper back. I am blessed. Thank you Baylor for giving me back my happily ever after.
This blog post was contributed by Candice Stinnett, a mother, wife and cancer survivor.