I was supposed to go to Israel and all I got was cancer

Illustration by Katelyn Pilley

There were a lot of things that I thought would prevent me from getting to Israel: not finding the right prescription medication in bulk, a last minute Middle Eastern crisis, not being able to fit everything in a suitcase. That was my own personal crisis as I stared at my clothing options strewn across my floor the Thursday before I was scheduled to leave.

Then I got the call that I needed to come into my doctor’s office with my mom that afternoon. I went the night before to check up on a strange lump near my collarbone. Thinking I just needed antibiotics, my doctor sent me for a chest x-ray just in case. At the appointment that Thursday afternoon, I was told that I wouldn’t be able to go to Israel. By Friday, the next day, I was told it was probably lymphoma.

These events led to a rabbit hole of tests trying to determine what exactly we were dealing with and how we were going to deal with it. The verdict was Early-Stage Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

Before Hodgkin’s, I had a strict scheduled plan for how and when I was going to graduate from BU with two degrees and a minor. Before Hodgkin’s, I pictured my life after my trip to the eastern Mediterranean; I would come home smarter, wiser, with a better sense of self and direction. Before Hodgkin’s, I thought I was in control. I have since learned that I’m not. And that’s okay.

I’m not going to lie and say I’m not upset, that I didn’t mourn the life I felt I lost, that I didn’t feel heartbreak as I watched my dreams disappear. I’m letting myself feel that pain as it comes. But I’m not letting it destroy me.

I feel lucky that my brand of cancer is something that can be treated. Hodgkin’s has an 85% cure rate. And while I never expected that this would happen to me, I feel like I can handle it.

Before Hodgkin’s, I had a bad semester. It felt like something I had to endure. I came home feeling grateful for surviving and looking forward to the unknown of Israel. Maybe in a parallel universe, other Katelyn went to Israel and found who she was and conquered the world. In this universe though, I have Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and I’m ready to conquer it.

Because of Hodgkin’s, I spent my 21st birthday listening to the Talking Heads on the beach, singing bad karaoke at Cogan’s, enjoying fun brunch and fancy dinner, surrounded by the people I love. Because of Hodgkin’s, I bought myself a Gameboy and didn’t feel bad about it. I took time to go through my high school bedroom and discern who I was and who I am now. I learned a lot about healthcare and insurance and at least 5 medical procedures.

Because of Hodgkin’s, I feel so incredibly lucky and so incredibly loved.

Soon, I’ll start the real battle. I’ll probably have to learn how to ask for help, have to stop being so bull-headed, have to watch all those culturally distinguished TV series and movies I’ve never have seen. I’ll have to accept that sometimes days are going to be lost.

I’m thankful for the 20 years I spent having my life planned out. I’m thankful for the number of years I’ll get after this knowing that doesn’t really matter. I’m thankful that I can make jokes about donating my body to science for 6 months because that makes me sound like a cool robot.

There’s no moral of the story here because the story hasn’t really started yet. I want to be open and transparent about what’s going on with me. It’s hard to tell people you aren’t going to Israel after you basically shouted it from the rooftops. It’s even harder to tell people you aren’t going because you have cancer.

I’m not in control anymore, but at least at some point in the future I’ll be cancer-free and that’s all a girl can really ask for.

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