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Times photographer gears up for battle against cancer

‘I have a chance to beat this monster, and I will.’

POSTED: January 24, 2012 1:13 a.m.
/For The Times

Times photographer Sara Guevara poses for a family photograph on Christmas Day with husband Oziel, boxer Dulce, center, and pit bull Pato.

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Three years ago, I lost my grandmother, my mother's mother, to stage IV oral cancer.

Last year, on the same day, I was diagnosed with stage II Hodgkin lymphoma.

I was shopping for random items in a local Walmart when my phone rang. I had been expecting the call.

Just days prior, I had surgery to biopsy two swollen lymph nodes on the left side of my neck. Great timing, I thought.

I quickly pushed my cart into the least populated aisle in the beauty section of the store. Glancing at all of the hair accessories, I took a deep breath.

This was it.

My eyes darted back and forth to make sure I was alone as the nurse practitioner explained the results.

"It appears to be very indicative of Hodgkin's lymphoma," she said.

My head began to swirl and I sank into myself. I cringed at the thought of having an emotional breakdown in the middle of a Walmart. No, I wouldn't give onlookers the satisfaction. I pushed through the pain.

"Uh huh," I managed to blurt out. "I understand."

Cancer at 26 years old.

One week before my mishap inside of the big box store, I had a meeting with my general practitioner. He met with my husband and me in his office. No good ever comes from those kinds of meetings. The doctor told me the symptoms I was complaining of were very indicative of Hodgkin lymphoma.

I pulled my best "I'm OK with this" face during the rest of the meeting, making sure not to make eye contact with my husband. I knew if I let my eyes rest upon his that I would lose it. I held my desire to scream until the end of the meeting, which couldn't come soon enough.

I remember frantically leaving my doctor's office. The world outside the office was gray and seemed to stand still.

I walked until I was sure I was out of earshot.

I stood in the middle of the parking lot and sobbed.

A woman passed me, a concerned looked appeared on her face. I couldn't stop the tears.

I cried.

I cried for all of the procedures to which I would no doubt submit. I cried for the pain and suffering my family and friends would endure. I cried because I was scared of the unknown. I cried because crying was the only thing I felt I could control.

I cried until the tears would come no more.

My husband, my rock, my saving grace, warmly embraced me.

‘‘Didn't you hear the doctor?'' I asked.

‘‘Didn't you hear the doctor?'' he inquired.

‘‘There is a cure.''

He was right.

Hodgkin lymphoma, although very rare, is one of the most treatable and curable forms of cancer.

I have a chance to beat this monster, and I will.

Besides overcoming cancer — a word so inextricably linked to another: death — I want to share my journey. I want to share the good and the bad of my battle with cancer. I have always been the type of person who combats fear of the unknown with knowledge.

It is my hope that through my personal account, cancer will become just another six-letter word.

Sara Guevara is a staff photographer with The Times.


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