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First cycle of chemotherapy dispels expectations, fears
Times photographer Sara Guevara gets a hug from father Bob Plourde as he drops her off at Atlanta Cancer Care on Jan. 27 for her second round of chemotherapy treatment. - photo by Lindy Cordell

Sara and the six-letter word

Times photographer Sara Guevara continues an occasional series in which she shares her experience battling Hodgkin lymphoma. She recently was diagnosed with the disease, a form of cancer. Follow her progress and learn how to help on Facebook.


Hodgkin lymphoma

What is it: A cancer of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system aids the immune system in fighting infection and protecting the body from pathogens.
How common is it: It accounts for less than 1 percent of all cases of cancer in the United States
Who does it affect: Although the cancer can occur in both children and adults, it is most commonly diagnosed in young adults between the ages of 15 and 35 and in older adults over age 50.
How to treat: Hodgkin lymphoma is treatable through chemotherapy, radiation therapy and/or surgery

Chemotherapy is not at all what I expected it to be.

I arrived at Atlanta Cancer Care on an early Friday morning in January. It was Friday the 13th to be exact.
The date seemed fitting.

Before I could start my treatment in the infusion room, I had blood drawn to make sure my counts were high enough to receive treatment.

As I sat waiting for the medical assistant to access my port, I mentally prepared myself. I had done my research; I knew I was about to get a fairly large needle in my chest. I wanted to bolt out of the office, but I stayed.

I had to do this in order to get better, I told myself.

My thoughts about receiving chemotherapy were very mixed.

I knew I needed it to get rid of the cancer. It would have been easier to fully accept if I felt sick, but I didn't. I felt fine. Fortunately, I never experienced any symptoms from the cancer other than a few swollen lymph nodes. I never lost any weight. I never had a fever or a cold.

So it was particularly difficult for me to submit to something that would make me potentially sicker than I felt going into the treatment.

But chemotherapy was necessary. The reality was that I had cancer and it would only get worse if I refused treatment.

The medical assistant opened the door and walked into the room. Her presence pulled me back into that room and away from my doubts.

She cleaned the area and told me to take a deep breath. As I exhaled, she gently pushed the needle into my chest and through the port.

It was painless.

I smiled, relieved.

From that point on, the rest of the day was spent sitting in a comfortable recliner. My treatment took about six or seven hours, so I brought a small rollaway suitcase full of items to keep me occupied.

I had a couple of visitors as well. They helped pass the time. I felt very fortunate to have visitors; there were some patients who were alone the entire time.

I made a quick observation about the age of other patients. I was, by far, the youngest patient. In fact, when I entered the infusion room that morning, a few older patients stared at me. I wondered if they sympathized with me or simply wondered what I was doing there. It seems that cancer is still a disease society has dumped on the elderly.

Looking out among my cancer compatriots, I wondered what type of cancer brought each patient to the center. I looked over to a middle-aged woman reading a novel. She was not bald, nor did she look sickly.

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 1.6 million new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed this year alone.

The face of cancer is changing: No longer should our perception of a cancer patient be that of a sickly frame with a hollow face and sunken eyes.

Chemotherapy is much more kind to its recipients these days. There have been great medical advances in treating the side effects that once slowed down cancer patients. For some, nausea and appetite loss is almost a thing of the past.

There are thousands of us out there beating this so-called death sentence every day.

After submitting to my first cycle of chemotherapy, I am ready for what the remaining treatments may bring me — good or bad.

As I have been told before, the universe will not put you through that which you cannot handle.