Maressa Williams Goes a Second Round With Lymphoma

Before I was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, I thought living with a disease that would affect every aspect of my life was completely outside the realm of possibility. Never in a million years did I think I’d be diagnosed with cancer.

It might sound like a cliché, but it’s a sentiment I’m sure I share with many of the brave people who have previously written for this column. At the age of 24, I considered myself a strong person — not infallible or invincible but something very close to it.

Maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle wasn’t just a passion, it came as second nature to me. I watched everything I ate and planned out meals in advance. I took pride in my fitness and was strict about my workout regimen. I participated in bodybuilding competitions in addition to being a full-time nursing student at the Trident Technical College in North Charleston, S.C. Throughout my life, I faced challenges head on and always tried to look at the positives. I faced each and every obstacle that came my way without fear.

Everything changed in September 2013.

A Back Injury Leads to a Biopsy
When I injured my spine, I visited a hospital to get a standard MRI. The doctors found a mass in my chest, and in a matter of minutes they were discussing the possibility of cancer. Before I could even properly process what was happening, I dropped everything and immediately went to New York Presbyterian Hospital. A surgical biopsy on a swollen lymph node confirmed a diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma.

After my initial diagnosis, I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t have a clue what lymphoma was, let alone what it meant to have blood cancer. First thing I did when I came home from the hospital was Google the disease, but I came away still feeling unsatisfied with the information I found. I soon found out that there were thousands of people just like me who went through the same emotions of confusion and helplessness after their diagnosis. (If you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed, I recommend visiting the Lymphoma Research Foundation and taking advantage of their up-to-date and accurate information on lymphoma and its many subtypes.)When I was first diagnosed, I was angry. I felt sick. I felt vulnerable and lost. I switched back and forth between laughter and tears, simultaneously feeling devastated, hopeful, and confused. Fortunately, both of my parents were with me in the office when I heard the news. We were all in tears and my dad (Montel Williams) kept repeating, almost as a mantra, that I wouldn’t be alone in getting through this and that they would support me throughout the whole process.

From my research, I also found that there was a high prevalence of lymphoma among adolescents and young adults, a fact that I thought required urgent attention from people in my age group and the larger public.

To help raise awareness, I immediately threw myself into blogging for my father’s website and Dr. Oz’s blog on my experiences going through treatments. I also began working with the Lymphoma Research Foundation, the nation’s largest non-profit organization devoted exclusively to funding innovative lymphoma research, to do my small part in helping eradicate the disease.

Just like I had done before the diagnosis, I faced a challenge head on and tried my best to stay defiant and positive.

Today, I face a new challenge. Recently, after being in remission for a few months, I relapsed and have started my second wave of chemotherapy. And just like last time, I will stay strong and not be defeated.

I hope my story can inspire others to educate themselves and their loved ones about a disease that will be diagnosed. I urge you to visit the LRF for more information on how you can help raise awareness about lymphoma.

Maressa Williams, age 26, is a nursing student, an ambassador for the Lymphoma Research Foundation, and daughter of TV and radio personality Montel Williams.

By Everyday Health Guest Contributor
Published Sep 22, 2014

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