Story of a Survivor

Imagine this scenario: you wake up to your alarm in the morning, and sleepily crawl out of bed. As you walk to the mirror, you notice a large red rash spread all over your body. It itches terribly, so you decide to go to the doctor. After going through numerous tests, you head home and await for the results.
A few weeks later, the phone rings. As you answer, the doctor on the other line sighs heavily and informs you of the cancer that is spreading throughout your body. How would you react? What would you do? I myself cannot even fathom what reactions would occur or how I would deal with the news, or even live my life. Erica Saviuk, a junior at Stetson University, was diagnosed with cancer, yet handled it extremely well. Thus is the reason why this now cancer free woman is my inspiration and one of my heroes.

Me: What kind of cancer were you diagnosed with?

Erica: I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which is cancer of the lymph nodes. I had never even heard of Hodgkin’s before I got it.

Me: How did you find out you were diagnosed with it? When were you diagnosed?

Erica: It was a very long process, actually. I had a terribly itchy rash on my arms and legs in the beginning of May. That was coupled with a swollen lymph node at the base of my neck. By the last week of the month, I’d had a trip to the emergency room, three visits to a dermatologist, and a consultation with an allergist. All of the visits were unsuccessful; nobody could come up with a diagnosis and none of the drugs that were prescribed to me alleviated the problem. The lymph node was huge and painful at this point, and my family doctor ordered a biopsy on it. That procedure was done on a Thursday. Saturday morning I woke up with a high fever and the rash was all over my body – my face, chest, neck, and back, in addition to what was already on my arms and legs.
From there, my parents took me to the hospital. On that Monday afternoon (June 2nd), my family doctor called with the results from Thursday’s biopsy. It showed that I had stage two cancer.

Me: How long did you have cancer, since you are now “cancer-free”?
Erica: I can’t really say how long I had cancer for, since I don’t really know how long it was in my system prior to diagnosis. What I can say, however, is that I was aware of the fact that I had cancer for four months (seventeen weeks). I found out on Monday, September 29, that I am cancer-free. I still have to do three more chemotherapy treatments (better safe than sorry!), which means I will be all done with treatments and medicine and all that about a week before Thanksgiving.

Me: Who/what helped you get through cancer?

Erica: Ooh, that’s a good question. The “who” part has to go to my parents and my good friends, obviously. It is so amazing to have people around who will, as cliche as it sounds, be a shoulder to cry on. And believe me, I needed that. It’s tough to be strong all the time; I tried to keep a smile and a brave face as much as I could, but there were those days where not looking like myself anymore and not wanting to go to chemo or get painful shots and not knowing if I could go back to school when everyone else was counting down the days until they got here just broke me.
As far as the what, there’s two answers for that. First, knowing that Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is the most curable/treatable form of cancer was definitely helpful in getting through. I mean, imagine if I had some rare form that had no cure? Yikes. Secondly, having a positive attitude was definitely a lifesaver. Literally. You can choose to be happy or you can choose to be pissed off about a situation. Sure, there are definitely downsides to having cancer. But if you look at the good things (getting to catch up on sleeping and TV watching, not having to shave your legs for four months, and saving a ton of time in the morning because you don’t have to curl, scrunch, or straighten your hair), it makes it a little easier to cope with.

Me: Are there any books or outside sources you read/looked at that helped you get through this?

Erica: I read “Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips” and “Crazy Sexy Cancer Survivor” by Kris Carr. BEST books ever. They are so hilarious and sad and really hit home. Oh my goodness. Even if you don’t have cancer. you should read these. Ahh. So so so so good.

Me: What words or advice would you give to people who have cancer?
Erica: You know, I’ve never been asked this before. Hmm. “Don’t be afraid to say no to things you can’t do because you either don’t want to or you are too tired to. And don’t bottle your sadness up because you think you’ll be a burden to someone. People genuinely care and want to listen to you, even if they cannot give you the magic words to make everything right. It’s good too, to remember that having cancer makes you a mini-celebrity, which means you only get fifteen minutes of fame. Everyone wants to be your friend and visit and send cards and want to know how things are going at the start of your cancer journey. People will come out of the woodwork in the blink of an eye, but as soon as the initial shock of the situation wears off, they will disappear in an instant, too. That’s just the way it goes, and you really cannot take it personally.”

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