Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma Survivor
Survivor Turns Focus to Helping Others
Even though the pain was often intense, Lesley Anderson didn’t expect the knee discomfort she had battled for years to be caused by a tumor. But, at 31, the new mom was diagnosed with Stage IV diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. After three types of treatment, Lesley is in remission and she has wasted no time in contacting advocacy groups to explore how she can help others going through a similar experience.
For about five years, I dealt with knee pain. It used to only come once or twice a year but got progressively worse. Eventually, I was in terrible pain every other week. I got into a car accident in 2013 which I’m sure didn’t help. My knee was always swollen at some level or another. I lost a ton of sleep, and I took way too many medications. I saw an orthopedic doctor in 2014 who prescribed physical therapy, but I was hoping for an MRI. Then I found out I was pregnant with my son, so I definitely couldn't do an MRI. Instead, I just dealt with the pain, which was insane because I was gaining weight throughout the pregnancy, which put more pressure on my knee.
Of course, after my son was born, I put my knee pain on the back burner. I finally found another orthopedic surgeon. He diagnosed me with knee cap pain and prescribed three months of physical therapy. That didn’t work. I had a cortisone shot, and the relief lasted about one week. I waited a crazy three months to get another cortisone shot, and this time I requested an MRI.
The results came back showing a tumor in my knee. The doctor thought that since I’d had pain for so long but no other symptoms, the tumor was most likely benign. To be sure, he wanted me to find an orthopedic oncologist. After about three months of battling with insurance and trying to find a specialist, I finally got in touch with a nearby cancer center. The doctor ordered an X-ray and another MRI. He wanted to do a frozen biopsy and remove the tumor at the same time. He got as far as the biopsy and closed my knee back up. That's when my journey began.
At 31 yrs old, I was officially diagnosed with Stage IV diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. The doctor wasn’t sure if it was Stage III or Stage IV since my PET scan showed inflammation by my collarbone and possible lymphoma in my tonsils, even though they were only large, not red or infected. (It's funny because my tonsils have always been large. Who would have thought that cancer would have spread to them?)
My doctors came highly recommended and that definitely put my mind at ease. I trusted them, and I didn't seek a second opinion or a clinical trial because I was afraid of the odds. At the time of diagnosis, my son had recently turned two years old. All I could think about was what would happen if I didn't make it. Sure, he had his Dad, but I didn't want him to grow up with only one of us. I was too scared to try an alternative route.
I had six cycles of a common chemotherapy regimen, along with six lumbar punctures. Both were administered once every 21 days. I followed those with 17 rounds of radiation therapy to my knee.
The first two cycles of chemo weren't too bad. The first few days after each cycle, I was a little nauseated, but I could still eat and my energy level was okay. I bounced back pretty well. When my hair started falling out, it became real. The fact that I was battling cancer was more concrete because it was staring me right in my face.
After the third cycle, it got a little rough. I ended up with a neutropenic fever and was admitted into the hospital at the same time that my son had strep throat, a sinus infection and tonsillitis. That was tough, because I wasn’t really supposed to be around him, but I just put a mask on and focused on getting him better. My job as his mother was not going to stop, no matter the circumstances.
My treatments got postponed a few times due to my white count being too low, so I was on a modified dosage of bone marrow stimulants. I wasn't bouncing back as quickly, and I felt pretty weak for most of the time between the least three treatments.
I had insane acne from the steroids, and my nails turned dark. I’m still dealing with the dark nails. My menstrual cycle became a little abnormal, and it still is. Radiation also left me with a super tanned kneecap, but dark nails and a tanned knee are a small price to pay for being able to be with my family each day.
I had a ton of support. My family was amazing. They are spread all over the world, but they always seem to send the best love, especially my parents and my siblings. We had a dinner to thank all the friends and family who supported us this year.
The whole journey showed me different sides of those in my life, and I am forever grateful. The entire staff at the hospital, down to the valet, were always sweet to us and so helpful. I was grateful for that as well. Even the teachers at my son's daycare made a basket of essentials for me, and they checked on me every day.
I am currently in remission and, above all else, I am thankful. I'm looking forward to this new chapter in my life. I'm definitely glad I don't have to be in pain anymore, and I consider myself lucky because it could have gone a different way for me. Therefore, I really want to somehow help those who are or were going through a similar journey. My perspective of how I live my life has changed. I feel like I need to make sure that each moment of my days are spent to the fullest. I can't wait to make that happen.