Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Survivor
Strong Internal Belief Helped Young Woman Overcome Lymphoma
DeeDee Kindley was only 23 years old when she received the potentially devastating diagnosis of cancer. After the doctor gave her the news, she and her mother held on to one another and sobbed. Yet even in those early moments in a small emergency department room, DeeDee drew from an inner strength and made a decision.
“I looked at my reflection in a tiny mirror above the sink on the emergency room wall, and I decided I was going to be okay. For me, it was a decision to live — a choice,” she said. “I truly believed, from the time I was diagnosed, that I would ultimately recover.”
DeeDee, a survivor of stage 2B large-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma, had a grapefruit-sized tumor wrapped around her heart. From the beginning of her treatment journey, she would need all the belief and determination she could muster. As she navigated this difficult whirlwind in her young life, DeeDee began keeping a journal of her thoughts and feelings, her subsequent fight for recovery and relationships that were essential to her survival. These writings would later become the basis for her 2008 book, entitled, "Heart Knots – The Story of a True Survivor".
In the months prior to her diagnosis, DeeDee hadn’t been feeling well. She had a chronic cough and mild night sweats. Her hair was falling out more than usual, and she was unable to sleep on her back for two weeks prior to her diagnosis. For a month, she repeatedly made appointments with her doctor, but he found nothing conclusive. Finally, she requested a chest X-ray, and that’s when the tumor in her chest was discovered.
From her emergency room diagnosis, events progressed quickly. DeeDee was admitted to the hospital for a biopsy of the tumor, and her doctors prescribed radiation treatment in order to shrink the tumor. The radiation was successful, and the tumor shrank from 14 to 11 centimeters, but chemotherapy was to follow.
"I had the good fortune to have some really wonderful doctors. I could have easily died several times — during my biopsy there was great risk for internal bleeding. However, I always felt like my doctors believed in me. That’s part of having good doctors,” DeeDee said. “My oncologist told me it wouldn’t be easy, but there was a light at the end of the tunnel for me, and he believed I could do it.”
DeeDee was moved to a private room in the pediatric wing, which allowed her friends to visit often. In addition, outside her room was a beautiful oak tree with a large heart-shaped knot in the trunk. During her stay, DeeDee would sit underneath it and write in her journal. Later, when she went back to look for the tree, it had been removed when the hospital was expanded. She said, “Metaphorically, just as the tree was gone — so was my illness.”
After her nine-day hospital stay, DeeDee began three months of chemotherapy. As her treatment progressed, the tumor shrank to 1 centimeter in just four weeks, and when she completed her chemotherapy on July 2, 1991, she was in remission. DeeDee had six additional weeks of radiation therapy that resulted in a pericardial effusion (fluid in the lining of the heart). Her surgeon performed a cardiac surgical procedure, which successfully drained the fluid.
DeeDee gradually recovered from her chemotherapy and radiation treatments — including the side effects of hair loss and weight gain from steroids. She noted that right by her side through the entire journey, in addition to her family, was her best friend and love of her life, Jim, who in 1992 became her husband. DeeDee said, “He provided love and support and was always there for me, which showed his strength of character and what truly loving someone looks like.”
She continued, “For me, recovery is a lifelong process and having cancer helped me become more of who I am today. It also set me on the path to fulfill my life’s purpose helping others truly live their lives with intention and purpose.”
Today, DeeDee is a successful career and life planning counselor, public speaker, author, wife and mother. She holds a Master of Science degree in counseling psychology. In addition to "Heart Knots," which she wrote to encourage other cancer patients, she has also written, "The Key to Happiness – A Career and Life Planning Guide to Unlocking Your Life Passion & Living It." (www.heartknots.org and www.careerdirection4me.com)
In reflecting on her fight against cancer, she acknowledged the presence of spirituality in her survival and stressed the importance of visualization and making plans for the future. She said, “I tell people that anything is possible. I do think it is helpful to visualize what you want to happen as well as to envision your body healthy. Belief in yourself and having a positive attitude can influence your actions and well-being.”