My name is Jessica Olson. I’m twenty years old, a Journalism and Communication and Media student, and I’m facing my third cancer diagnosis.
May 3rd 2011 I was diagnosed with Stage II Nodular Sclerosing Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. This is a type of lymphoma – a cancer that starts in white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are part of the immune system. I found this from a lump in my neck, above my right clavical bone, around the size of a golf ball. I was fifteen years old, and had eight rounds of BEACOPP Chemotherapy and two and a half weeks of Radiotherapy. On December 5th 2011 I was CLEAR – now all I had to do was stay PET NEGATIVE (no active cancer) for five years and I had survived.
November 2015 I found another lump, this time under my jaw. I had an ultrasound and it was misdiagnosed as NOTHING. Come April 2016 the lump hadn’t left and I knew something was wrong. I demanded another ultrasound, this time it came back as abnormal. After a biopsy I was told I had Mucoepidermoid Carcinoma (cancer of the saliva gland. They contain three cellular elements in varying proportions: squamous cells, mucus-secreting cells, and “intermediate” cells.) I had a big operation where the gland was removed as well as tissue and 30 lymph nodes. The cancer had been found to have spread to the margin and 1 lymph node but it was a low grade tumour (good sign) – which meant 6 weeks of radiotherapy were in store.
I had 28 doses of every day radiotherapy for six weeks. Three weeks later another lump emerged in the exact same spot. I consulted my physio who was treating me for lymphedema (a condition of localized fluid retention and tissue swelling caused by a the removal of lymph nodes, which normally returns interstitial fluid to the thoracic duct, then the bloodstream.) She told me this lump was not scar tissue and to see my doctor immediately. I went straight to the hospital reception, saw my doctor and he sent me for a CT scan immediately. The next day he called to say I needed a biopsy so on Tuesday I went to the hospital for that. The biopsy took forever because they were struggling to extract cells, so they made an incision in my neck and I lost so much blood I had to stay in hospital that day so they could monitor me. On that Friday I got the call that the cancer was back.
I had a meeting with my radiologist that day and he told me I had one option left; one chance. An enormous surgery where a huge chunk of flesh would be removed as well as the tumour. They’re taking out the nerve to control my lower lip on the right side and the nerve that controls my tongue on the right side (which means my smile will be crooked and I’ll have a lisp and most likely need rehab to learn to talk again properly.) I’ll also require a breathing tube in hospital and a feeding tube as my mouth will be so swollen from the surgery. Not to mention, they’re cutting my jaw in half to access it better, so I’ll have a metal plate to reconnect it all.
This was a lot to take in, and after my many years of fighting cancer, treatments and heart break I wasn’t sure if I would take this option. I felt like I had had enough, I’ve tried hard for so long, I’ve battled and remained strong and experienced so much anxiety of a relapse or secondary cancer over the last five years that maybe this was the end. Maybe the reason it kept coming back was because it was the end of my time on earth. I was only 20 but maybe this was God’s plan, and I had to stop fighting fate and let myself go. I asked if I refused the surgery how long would I have, to which he replied “only a matter of months.” There is the option of symptom care, where they medicate you to help you get through the pain as you’re dying, but even so it would be a very slow and painful death for me where the tumour would grow and grow, breaking out of my skin, and I would eventually suffocate to death (so morbid, I know!)
After a million tears, I told my family, boyfriend and close friends my dilemma. I needed to make a choice and make it quickly, because I didn’t have time to waste. On one hand, I had a big surgery to undertake which ultimately would change my life and who I am forever. I was scared of who I’d wake up being. Was my journalism career over? Who wants to see a girl with a crooked smile on their TV screens and listen to a lisp? Even if I worked in print, would someone hire me after meeting me? All I’d ever wanted to be was a journalist, who was I without my passions and my dreams? I’m a very motivated person; my whole life I’ve had my ‘eye on the prize.’ I don’t do anything mediocre; I excel in my academics, my sport and my leisure life and I always give everything I commit to my 100%. How could I wake up and now live a confused, mediocre life where I’d gone from a confident and outgoing person, to a shy and embarrassed person who feared opening their mouth, or showing their face?
Yet on the other hand, if I chose not to have surgery the death will be painful and horrible. My friends and family will have to live with the fact that I had one chance and I let it go, and maybe that one chance could have saved me. If I do the surgery and it doesn’t work I’ll die anyway, so what’s the harm in trying – I LITERALLY have nothing to lose.
So I chose the surgery, and in doing that I’d like to say I chose LIFE. If I go down after this (POSITIVE THOUGHTS It will work – I will get through this) – but if I do – I want to be remembered as someone who never gave up even in times of immense adversity. I want to beat the odds and be in that 30% who survive. And who says I can’t be? I’m young and fit and most of all I am determined. This is my fight and I’m taking charge now.
So I’ve had loads of people messaging me, calling me and asking me for updates DAILY (because you’re all so supportive!) and I thought why not blog? I’ve never been an overly private person, I’m not afraid to talk about my fears or my adversities. So if you want to have a little look at what I’m going through or just keep up with my progress, this blog is here. It’s therapeutic for me, and it’s keeping you guys all in the loop about me and my fight.