What My Battle With Cancer Taught Me About Life

It feels like just yesterday that pain started in the groin of my leg. As a new resident to Los Angeles, CA, the only thing on my mind was work, so I could survive in the expensive city of my dreams. Hobbling to and from my air mattress became quite comical due to my professional and social life falling perfectly into place. In addition to getting my social and financial ducks in a row, I knew it was time to really get settled and find a church, doctor, and steady neighborhood to call home. 

In October of 2014, I started seeing my chiropractor. Suggestions on better footwear and sitting positions at work led me to believe that I would be back on track immediately, but my chiropractor still suggested I find a doctor.

In November of 2014, I underwent four full-body and lower-back MRIs. Results showed I had a spinal issue called “syrinx”, and would need to see a neurologist for further testing. In early January of 2015, my neurologist concluded that my pain was due to pinched nerves and that muscle relaxers and physical therapy would get me back to normal. Though I was happy to hear this and understand that there were no serious effects with "syrinx", I was still uneasy that this wasn’t the correct diagnosis. Needing to get back to a busy life, I took my directions and made plans to celebrate my small victory on Superbowl weekend.

On Saturday, January 31, 2015, a friend and I headed to our first stop of the night in West Hollywood. She hopped up on the booth as I grabbed a friend's hand to do the same. With one lunge, I jerked back in pain, immediately grabbing my leg and taking a seat. The pain was excruciating and I was convinced I had broken something. After a few swigs of Vodka no numbing the pain, I decided to end the night early and head home.

“Are you sure you can walk?” my friend asked. I nodded frantically then immediately second guessed my answer. The pain, still throbbing hard, had me carried out by a nearby bouncer. Though I was disappointed, I knew a good night's rest would do me well for the Superbowl celebrations the next day.

On the fifteen-minute Uber ride home, the pain still had not faded. Pulling up to my apartment was all fun and games until I realized how many steps I had to go up each day. By the grace of God, the Uber driver carried me up the two flights of steps and to my door. It was at this point I became certain something was wrong and I had strained something, and pushed myself on the floor of my apartment to my bedroom. It took about ten minutes to get myself into bed, 20 minutes to down the prescribed Advil, and 90 minutes to realize this pain wasn’t going away.

Calling 911 wasn’t something I wanted to do. I tried waiting it out for 45 more minutes, even calling the hospital to see if they could just send me an ambulance. Unable to get my clothes off, I knew the phone call had to be made and in minutes paramedics were at my door. I gathered as many items as I could and sobbed as they rolled me out of my apartment bedroom for the last time as a “normal” girl.

While waiting for X-Ray results in the emergency room, I called my oldest sister to give her an update. We both decided that this
was Sciatica and that I would be released sooner than later. As I hung up the phone, my nurse approached with the X Ray results. 

“Oh so it’s just a cyst?” I asked.
“No. It’s not a cyst. Here’s the phone, you’ll need to call someone,” the nurse replied.

With screaming patients in the background, I gave my sister another call. With the recent loss of my older sister, Jillien, I was reluctant to tell my parents that I had been growing a cancerous tumor in my leg this whole time. Eight hours later my Dad was at my Burbank hospital.

I was still in shock as I went from being out on the town with a friend, to using a bedpan. 

It was a blessing that my surgeon requested a bed for me at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Beverly Hilsl, California, because with the rarity of my case, there was nothing the previous hospital could do. With one pair of clothes and no shoes, it took about two weeks to confirm that I had a 4 inch malignant femur capable of being Rhabdomayo Sarcoma, or Osteosarcoma.

My family and I constantly spoke of the odds. My sister having a rare cancer disease just 2 years prior made it all the more real.

All conversation aside, we moved forward with my treatment. My femur and hip were replaced February 17, 2015, just beginning my journey with this disease.

Fast forward about a year, and I found out I had cancer for the second time in August 2016. I knew then, that something had to change. My first experience with the disease taught me to sort through my life and see what was eating away from me. There were many lessons I had overlooked learning, so many practices I had been avoiding, and so many things I was forgetting to be thankful for.

The fact that another battle has presented itself has taught me that there is something else I must learn. There are still lessons in this for me, and I am determined to figure them out. I can tell you that in one week, I have learned more about my body than I ever have. I have also made bigger promises to myself than I ever have. Taking care of me first, is key in my recovery.

Despite everything I have been through, I am grateful that my physical appearance has shocked my audience, given them hope to defeat this disease, and inspired them to live greater. 

Gabrielle Nelson - Guest Writer