Submission: Kate’s Story

This submission comes from a young woman named Kate Herzlin. Below she shares her story about her journey with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

I’m sitting on the top of the world, holding a chocolate croissant, and my life is before me, and I’m remembering lying in a hospital room dreaming of this moment, and more than anything, I just can’t believe that now, finally, I’m here.

In 2002, I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. I was lucky that it was caught early, but I still had to do the whole cancer-is-the-worst-chemo-surgery-hair-loss-hospital-nights-feeling-like-crap-fevers-and-mouth-sores-and-did-I-mention-cancer-is-the-worst thing.

But this post isn’t really about cancer, which sucks. It’s about the people, the community, the love and support that are out there that make it all suck a bit less.

I had an extraordinary doctor who cared about me and had an infallible sense of humor. I was tremendously fortunate to have nurses who were the greatest people in the world – then again, aren’t all nurses the greatest people in the world? And of the staff whose job it was to make kids feel more at home, there were some truly gifted, caring people. One of those people was Annemarie.

Annemarie was a Child Life specialist – her job was to work with kids in the pediatric cancer unit and help make their lives feel a bit more like normal, kid lives. Less like crummy, hospital lives. And she was an extraordinary person.

I was about to go into surgery to have my PICC Line replaced. A PICC line is a tube that stays in your body during months of treatment so doctors don’t have to stick you with an IV line every time you need some disgusting poisonous liquid pumped into your body. My PICC line had gotten infected because cancer is awesome, isn’t it?

Just before my surgery to have the PICC line replaced, the anesthesia wasn’t working. I wasn’t falling asleep, and instead just felt some stinging, immense drowsiness, and well, of course, fear. I could see my parents watching from the window, helpless. This was really freaking stressful.

And then, Annemarie was there, standing over me, telling me about the chocolate croissants in Paris. How delicious they were. How buttery and chocolatey. The more she talked, the more I calmed down. I finally passed out thinking of chocolate croissants and the Eiffel Tower and a life far away that someday might be mine.

Some years later I worked at Sunrise Day Camp – a tuition-free camp for children with cancer and their siblings. I got to be part of making lives more normal, giving kids their childhoods back. I saw myself in my campers. I remembered being confused, afraid, and just wanting to be a kid, wanting life to be mine again.

So years later when I went to visit Paris while studying abroad in London, having recently met the guy who would become my partner in crime (but I didn’t know it yet – that’s for another story), having a community of wonderful people in my life, with my dreams ahead of me, I knew I was going to get that chocolate croissant.

I woke up at 5am to walk up Montmartre on my own. I went to the bakery that Gertrude Stein used to get tarts from, just as it was starting to open for the day. I bought a chocolate croissant for a couple of euros (1.80, I think) and proceeded uphill. I’d read that if you just keep walking generally uphill on Montmartre, you’ll find yourself at the top of Sacre Coeur. I walked up beautiful winding streets, but couldn’t see Sacre Coeur anywhere. I’d been there earlier that week during tourist hours and climbed the steps – amid the chaos of midday at Sacre Coeur, I hadn’t quite gotten what all the hype was about. But having seen it before, I knew it was pretty hard to miss. Where the hell was it?

And then after walking the perimeter of the top of the hill about three times, I saw it – I’d been circling Sacre Coeur the whole time. I was already at the top of the hill. The whole entire world was before me. And it was just stunningly beautiful.

So I sat at the top of the steps. I ate my flaky, buttery, chocolate croissant. And ahead of me was the world, the sun having just risen, the day having just begun. In front of me was the potential for the future, was a city full of people with lives and dreams and stories to tell. And I couldn’t help but feel an enormous sense of gratitude. I was (and am still) so very grateful for my life, grateful for my doctors, grateful for Sunrise Day Camp, grateful for nurses, grateful for friends, grateful for love, grateful for Paris, grateful for my family, grateful for the kind, loving people I’d been blessed to know, and grateful, so endlessly grateful, for Annemarie.

And sitting there with my life before me, I finally knew for myself that it was all just as Annemarie promised it’d be. She was right: that chocolate croissant was delicious.



A Note from the Founder · Submission

Let’s Talk About The “C” Word.

No, not that C word. The scary one. Yes, I mean Cancer.


Yes, the big scary C word has become part of the daily conversation around here.
Most of you know by now that I was diagnosed with Non Hodgkins Lymphoma. After months of unexplainable, and unresolvable stomach pains, I finally was checked into the hospital for a week, tested like a lab rat, and diagnosed with a b-cell lymphoma. I had a tumor blocking 90% of my colon (the width, not the entire colon) and two grapefruit size tumors, one on each ovary. I was blessed with a team of incredibly intelligent doctors at Evanston Hospital who had the foresight to stop and think before cutting me open and performing an intense surgery that would not have completely solved the problem. I would’ve lost a foot of my colon and potentially both ovaries and still needed chemo. So a big shout out to Dr. Kirschner and Dr. Linn of Evanston Hospital for saving my organs!
So where did we go from here? Chemo of course. My tumors, in true fashion, have slightly aggressive tendencies so I needed a more aggressive treatment. I got a week long, 24 hour a day, infusion of chemo via my port and a little portable pump. Apparently the fatigue is greater, as is the risk of infection being around people, so I was on work leave until the end of January.
Let’s be real. Cancer really sucks. There’s nothing fun about the amount of pain I was in, the utter exhaustion I felt after the first treatment kicked in, the 10 different kinds of pills I had to take in addition to treatment, the odd mouth pain, and the fact that I lost my lovely hair in the first few weeks. I hate to be slowed down in life so this really tested me. I hate that I wasn’t able to work because this year was supposed to be epic. I was supposed to really kick ass this year. My first year of teaching, my learning year. I was so proud of myself for getting a teaching job right out of school and I barely got my feet wet before having to leave for five months. I didn’t even get to know my students and by the time I got back, I had a whole new group. I feel cheated. On top of that, I had never not worked (especially that long) since I was at least 15 years old. Maybe younger, in a less official capacity. Now I had unlimited free time and no idea what to do with it.
But here’s what I learned in the first few weeks. People sure will rally for you in your time of need. In a matter of a few short weeks I learned just how much love people can give when you’re hit with something this serious. I had coworkers send care packages, people drive me to appointments, friends offer to sit with me during chemo, friends parents send home fully prepared meals, and more. And the endless amounts of positivity coming from everyone is what made this process just a little bit more manageable.
It’s hard to ask for help. For people like me who are fiercely independent and thrive on being the one to take care of others, its extremely hard. We don’t know how to, we don’t want to be a burden, and we don’t want anyone to feel bad for us because we pride ourselves on being strong and unshakeable. Sometimes you just have to force it upon us so we can swallow our pride whole. I’m thankful for people in my life who won’t take no for an answer and have shared their love in so many ways. I’m blessed to so many people who supported me and wanted to see me get better.

So here’s to kicking cancer’s ass this year. Join me in this journey will you?

Til next time,