Sara and the six-letter word
Today, Times photographer Sara Guevara begins an occasional series in which she shares her experience battling Hodgkin lymphoma. She recently was diagnosed with the disease, a form of cancer.
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
How to help
Purchase a 30-minute portrait session for $50; send your inquiries to portraitsforSara@gmail.com.
Donate directly using PayPal via Sara.A.Guevara@gmail.com. That email can also be used to reach Sara if you'd like more information about how to send a check by mail.
Keep up with Sara on Facebook.
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 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.