My name is Molly Patten and I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 38 on 7/1/2020 right in the middle of the worst year in history. I had known for quite some time that something wasn’t right. I remember back in October of 2019 complaining about a pain in my abdomen which was causing pain in my lower back and numbness in my leg – all on the right side. I recall a conversation with my mom about the possibility of appendicitis or gallstones (My mom had gallbladder cancer back in 2012). At that time, the pain was off and on and nothing that was preventing me for a normal life, so like most people, I ignored it. In March 2020 the abdominal pain was getting worse, so I though the first stop should be my OBGYN. I scheduled my “well-woman” visit and got my annual exam. I explained the pain and she felt all around my ovaries and didn’t see of feel anything that would indicate it was an OB related issue. Okay, I thought, on to the next one. If we can eliminate reproductive organs, then I’ll go see my primary care doctor.
The following week I went in to be examined for the ever-increasing pain. After hearing about the pain and leg numbness, my primary doctor felt the most logical answer would be a pinched nerve in my back. I got a back X-Ray which showed slight swelling on my spine so I was given muscle relaxers, a booklet of stretches to do at home, and was told to try to lose some weight and I would be fine.
It was about that time that the world exploded. This was now mid March and shortly after this doctor appointment, California went on lockdown and all non-essential businesses closed. With fear of the virus all around, I figured it was best not to go back to the doctor’s office until it was safer to do so. While in quarantine for 3 months, working full-time and distance learning with my kids in TK and 3rd grade, my pain got worse, but still I ignored it. I just kept doing the stretched my doctor had suggested and took a LOT of Advil to alleviate the pain. It wasn’t until June that things got more serious. There were days where I couldn’t sleep in my bed and had to stay on the couch since I couldn’t get in a comfortable position for my back. There were also times when I would have an excruciating “flare-up” of pain where I was brought to tears, unable to walk and my kids running to get mommy the ice pack. I would need help to the couch where I would stack ice packs on my leg to get the pain down, but since my right leg was pretty numb from hip to knee by then, the ice brought little relief. Almost like a labor contraction, I had to just clench my teeth and hold my breath waiting for the pain to pass. After these “flare-ups” became a daily occurrence, I knew I had to do something. It was at that time that I noticed the mass. I was doing dishes on Thursday 6/18/20 before bed when I leaned up against the counter and felt resistance. Not the normal squishy belly that I’m used to, but a hard belly like I remember from when I was pregnant. Now, I’m sure it seems weird to some that I didn’t know what my belly felt like or didn’t regularly touch my stomach, but I just didn’t. So that night when I laid down in bed and further examined my swollen belly I knew there was something alarming. To me it felt like the size of a baseball and was very hard just on one size. Feeling like I might be overreacting, I woke up my husband and had him feel it too. I really thought he was going to tell me that he didn’t feel anything and to go back to bed, but that’s not at all how it went down. He felt it too. I can’t say I got much sleep that night.
The next day I made an appointment to see another primary doctor hoping he would have an easy explanation for the lump. He definitely felt the lump too and thought it felt like it was in or on my ovary – which was what I thought too. But how could my OBGYN not feel it back in March? Had it grown to be the size of a baseball in just 3 months? He scheduled me right away for a CT scan. After the scan I went home and waited for his call. I got that call just a few hours later where he said there’s definitely a large mass (not yet calling it cancer) and they couldn’t tell from the scan exactly what it was attached to and they needed to run more tests. I headed off to the hospital where I was told I would be spending about a week while all the tests were done.
I had bloodwork, an ultrasound, and an MRI done and still they weren’t 100% sure where the mass was. I met with more OBGYNs since the results were looking like the mass was inside my fallopian tube or in my ovary while other doctors thought it might be sarcoma (cancer in the muscle tissue). Finally after several people had a chance to review the MRI, they determined it was not sarcoma, which I was told was good news.
This also meant that they could do a biopsy to see if it was cancerous. The biopsy was CT guided where they would put me in the CT machine so the doctor could accurately pierce the mass and pull some out. I was told they wouldn’t be able to operate to remove the mass as I had hoped in the chance that it was lymphoma as lymphoma would require chemotherapy and not surgery.
After a week in the hospital, I returned home still in excruciating pain to wait for the results of the biopsy. A few days later I got the call that it was in fact cancer – Stage 2 Large B cell lymphoma – aka Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, but with a DOUBLE HIT. It was the double hit that my oncologist seemed the most concerned about. This means there are 2 mutations in my lymphoma causing those cancerous cells to grow at a rate of 90% where as most Non-Hodgkin’s cancer cells grow at 20%. He then ordered that I have more tests done – PET Scan, Echocardiogram, and a Bone Marrow Biopsy.
Days later I got to meet my oncologist for the first time and he showed me the video of my PET scan. The sight of my tumor was alarming to say the least. It was huge and bright and scary. He told me that my cancer has a 60% cure rate and made that seem like a good thing. He explained the good news is that there’s no cancer in my organs or in my bone marrow, but the bad news is that because it’s growing so fast, we needed to start chemo right away. And, because my cancer is so aggressive, we would need to be even more aggressive with the treatment. I wouldn’t be able to have the traditional chemo, I would need to be admitted to the hospital for another week and get over 100 hours of chemo infusion. I returned home to pack a bag and then head right back to the hospital to begin chemo.
After my first round of chemo in the hospital, I was told I could do all the other rounds as an out patient where I would get hooked up to the chemo and a pump and be able to chemo-at-home. I’m not sure which is worse. I had so many pump issues and it would beep and stop in the middle of the night and was impossible to get comfortable wearing a heavy bag of poison for 5 straight days.
I’ve just completed my 6th round of 100 hour infusion chemo and I go in for another PET scan in another 2 weeks. I had a scan done after round 3 which showed the tumor was half the size it was when we started, so we’re all hoping this scan will show no tumor at all. If it’s a clean scan, then I’ll have to do 3 more rounds of chemo in the hospital as a preventative as this type of cancer has a likeliness to reappear in the brain.
It’s been incredibly painful and emotional journey and I’m left feeling very weak and broken, but I’m hopeful that it will all be over soon. I’m not sure quite how to navigate life after cancer, but I have a huge support system to help me through it.