Hello! My name is Allison, and this is where I (sporadically!) write about my life! I am a Catholic stay-at-home mom to two beautiful kids, and am blessed with a loving husband and wonderful family and friends. I began this blog to update family and friends on my health after being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when I was 32 weeks pregnant with my first child, but it’s since become a place for me to express my thoughts and share stories about my faith. I pray that my words as I stumble through life might help you on your journey. Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow me on Instagram at @allisonbenotafraid, or check out my Etsy shop, Be Not Afraid Prints, where I sell my photography paired with inspiring quotes. You can follow my Etsy shop on Instagram @benotafraidprints or on Facebook here.
This is the story of my diagnosis as I wrote it in March 2011 (after my son was born and I had begun chemotherapy).
“For the past few months I’ve been having back/chest pain and a cough, and though I told a few different doctors, being pregnant alone can cause back/chest pain and congestion, so no one was too worried. But, in early February I started becoming increasingly short of breath. One doctor thought my asthma was acting up, but the inhaler he prescribed didn’t help very much. Mike and I finally decided to go to the ER on Feb. 13th 2011 (and the ER is where we spent Valentine’s Day……..very romantic, let me tell you!). After a lot of tests and drama I was told that there was a large mass in my chest and that it was probably cancer. The doctors did two operations to take part of the tumor out so that it could be tested, and a few days later I was given a final diagnosis of Primary Mediastinal Diffuse Large B-Cell Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. If you want to know more about it, here is a link with a simple explanation: http://www.lymphomation.org/type-PMBL.htm Although my pregnancy may have caused the doctors and me to ignore certain symptoms, my doctor has told me that she believes my symptoms would never have become so painful and pronounced if I had not been pregnant. As John Paul grew and took up more space in my body, the mass in my chest pushed more against my organs, causing more pain. In this way, I believe that John Paul was a special gift from God-not only my sweet baby that I love more than anything, but a person of grace who helped me get medical attention sooner than I would have otherwise.
I was in shock the first few days after the diagnosis, but slowly reached a point where I began to fluctuate between feeling terrified and feeling ready to battle this cancer. Every day continues to have so many ups and downs. Mike and I love our doctors, however, which is a great comfort, and our oncology doctor in particular seems confident that a few cycles of advanced chemo (planned to be given over 6 months as of now) and possible radiation if needed will be effective. It’s so hard to choose to be positive all the time, but I am trying, and I have been overwhelmed by the love of my amazing husband, my parents and siblings, and the many people who have sent cards/emails/prayers or visited. THANK YOU for being here for me. Every time I get a text or email or card it reminds me of how loved I am, calms my anxiety, and brings me hope—and I am so grateful.
In the midst of all this, what Mike and I have been most worried about is our sweet baby boy, John Paul. But praise God, he is doing so well! Before I even met him I was overwhelmed with love for him and amazed by how strong he is. So that I could start chemotherapy, I delivered him by c-section Monday, February 28th at 10:07 a.m. I had wonderful doctors who I know saved his life and mine, and I am so grateful for their competence and compassion. Because of where the mass is in my chest (and my compromised breathing), the doctors had to make the tough choice between giving me an epidural or putting me under general anesthesia. They finally decided to put me under general anesthesia, and although there were risks, I did just fine, as did John Paul, who was born a healthy 5 lbs. 10 ounces. Although John Paul had respiratory distress for a few days after his birth, and has had to remain in the NICU for over a month, he is doing wonderfully. He has grown so much since his birth, and is now breathing on his own, and learning to feed from a bottle on his own. He is a wonderful, sweet boy, with a curious, loving personality. Meeting him for the first time (8 hours after I gave birth) was the most amazing moment of my life. I never knew I could love someone as much as I love him. I love to cuddle with him and sing to him, and amazingly, he seems to recognizes my voice, and calms down as soon as he hears me sing songs that I used to sing when he was in the womb. Two of his favorites are “Someone to Watch Over Me,” and “Restless.” He is also partial to his daddy singing “The Notre Dame Fight Song.” And he loves his daddy so much-he loves to stare at his face and cuddle up to him, and they are already so bonded. It is beautiful to see.
After John Paul was born I had a few days to recover and then began my first cycle of chemo. I am now on my second cycle (as of March 28th-John Paul’s 1 month birthday!). Though every day is not easy, I am motivated to fight this battle. I love Mike and John Paul so much, and I know that my life with them will carry me through the months ahead.
When Mike and I were brainstorming names for our baby boy we each had ones we liked and we couldn’t agree. But finally, one night, we thought of naming him after Pope John Paul II and it just felt right. During the past month and a half Pope John Paul II’s message has brought us so much comfort: Be Not Afraid. I am so weak, and I am continuously humbled by my fears and failings. But even in my darkest moments I believe that God can take weak things and make them strong. I know that He is with me-in the love of my incredible husband, son, family and friends. And I know that He is with me in the love you give me. Thank you.