Olivia Layne Lifestyle Session in Sewanee, TN

This session with Olivia is definitely different than my usual sessions. You see Olivia was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, was treated for it, and subsequently beat it. Her positive outlook and strength were an inspiration to so many. We did this session as a way of expressing her freedom. Below I am going to attach a her story that she wrote:

To say that a cancer diagnosis turns your world upside down, is an understatement. I was two months shy of turning twenty-two when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. I had just celebrated a year at the company I work for in Chattanooga. I was counting down the days until my wedding that upcoming fall. I was so excited about everything in my life. I had everything going for me. I had a job I loved. I had a great support system from my loved ones. I had an amazing fiancé'. Though my life, as I knew it, was about to change drastically.

One day in June 2018, I was sitting at work. The day was dragging along, and my neck had begun to go stiff. I remember massaging the side of my neck with my hand and feeling a quarter sized knot. So, I immediately went to my managers office. She didn't know what it was, but she could tell I was frantic. She called in my team leader to have her look at it. While feeling around, we also noticed my lymph nodes were severely swollen. Oddly enough, even though they were swollen, they were painless. She didn't know what to make of it either. After work that day I called my primary care doctor. I went down there the following day, accompanied by my best friend. I walked up to the sliding glass door to sign in and they had apparently overbooked. Since, I had already taken off work that day and wanted some answers, I went to a nearby walk – in clinic. The doctor assessed me and ran blood work. After the blood work was done processing, she came in and told me that my white blood count was extremely high. Then she stated, “it could be an infection or lymphoma.” That left a lot of room for panic and worry. Let's just say if a “panic attack” embodied a person, that would be me. Naturally, this skyrocketed my anxiety. She prescribed me antibiotics and sent me to the hospital to have an ultrasound. We got to the hospital and they told me it is going to be $500 out of pocket. Needless to say, that ultrasound didn't happen at that particular time. I left feeling more petrified than I had felt not knowing anything. I took the week worth of antibiotics, and they did not seem to help anything.

I ended up switching my primary care to a place closer to where I live, a couple weeks following the walk- in clinic visit. I went to my new primary care, told her the story, and she too though it was an infection. She put me on stronger antibiotics for 2 weeks this time. I took the antibiotics and when it was time for me to be seen again... nothing. It had not helped the swelling, the high white blood count, or the knot on the side of my neck. She became concerned so she referred me to a Hematologist/ Oncologist. I wasn't able to get in until about two weeks later, so it was absolute torment trying not to stress myself into a heart attack in between those appointments. The day finally came for my appointment. Thankfully, I was blessed with an extraordinary Oncologist. She explained her plans and our next steps thoroughly. She wanted a biopsy of the knot. She then referred me to an ENT specialist to perform the biopsy. So, another week went by and it was time for the biopsy! It was a quick procedure and the results would be back in 3 days’ time. The wait took what seemed like weeks. I had already been preparing my mind, myself, and my loved ones for the C word.

The results were in..... possible Hodgkin's Lymphoma. They did not get a good enough sample to positively say it was cancer. They scheduled the removal of the knot to ensure they had plenty of tissue to test the next go around. Three days pass and on August 20, 2018 I was diagnosed with cancer. No matter how much you prepare yourself for this, it is never easy to hear. I had been telling myself it was cancer all along, but to hear those words come out of her mouth?  Unforgettable. My heart dropped to the very pit of my stomach. I knew right then and there, I had no choice but to be strong. I have always been a worrier. I mean, a complete basket case when it comes to irregular lifestyle occurrences. I knew if I didn't buckle down and handle it with a positive attitude, it would send me over the edge.

After my diagnosis, life was a blur for a least 3 weeks. I hated that I even had to breathe a word of this to anyone. I told everyone. I submitted my short -term disability to work, and the doctor appointments those few weeks were endless. The chemo regimen I was to be put on was one of the strongest. I had to have a lung function test, EKG, tons of blood work, a PET scan, a bone marrow biopsy (one of the most painful things I have ever experienced), and my port placed on my chest for my IV during chemo. Not to mention, I had to go through a very quick egg retrieval with a reproductive doctor. This ensured that if the chemo or radiation messed with my eggs, then I would have some untouched eggs in storage. That way I could use them whenever I decided to conceive. I had to give myself 4 shots every day and go every other day for blood work. This last two weeks. A very tedious process. Finally, they did my egg retrieval. It was successful!

To be perfectly honest those three weeks were very traumatizing. I had three weeks to do all of that, process the fact that I had cancer, and would be starting chemo that very next week. Everything was going so fast, I didn't have time to process it all. It is hard to even think back to those days. It makes me sick, I think once you are put in a position where to you don't have time to process, you just do. Fight or flight. I cannot lie and say that I was brave throughout this who process. Though, I somehow managed to keep myself together on the outside. I can remember the fear I had, I was so scared. I powered through, though.

September 7, 2018 is the day I had my first treatment. It went exceptionally well. The days following, they said I would either be sick, or I wouldn't. Thank God, I wasn't. I had body aches, a headache, and reddening of the skin. The red skin came from the chemo drug they call, “RED DEVIL.” Intimidating right? Fun fact: this drug had to be given to me by slowly pushing it through a syringe into my port. Protective gear had to be worn as well, because one drop could eat through your clothes, and severely irritate your skin. And this crap was going in my body?! Scary! No wonder it made you feel so sick. Treatments continued through January. Every time I had treatment, I would feel sick and have odd symptoms here and there, but I never really got super sick. I will never know why, but I am still so thankful, it happened that way. One of the hardest side effects was weight gain from the steroids. They pumped me full of steroids and all kinds of other pre-meds before I could even receive chemo. This was to reduce allergic reaction. From the steroids, I gained 25 pounds and ate even when I felt sick. They made me so hungry. Plus putting on weight, while not eating that much food is so bizarre. It really took a toll on my mental health and the way I saw myself. I was already going through a hard-enough time and then add 25 pounds. Every time I looked in the mirror, I hated myself. There was nothing I could do at the time, because each treatment, I received steroids. So, each treatment, I swelled up even more. Another very odd side effect, I guess you could call it, was that I always had to eat what I was craving. The first few days after a treatment, I could only eat what sounded appetizing. Nothing else would suffice. Most of the time it was baked potatoes or a flame thrower burger from DQ. Terrible choices right...especially with the weight gain going on.

I finally completed treatment on December 28, 2018! Then, on January 18th, they told me no radiation! Another blessing! My scans were looking great throughout the whole process and I had no trace of Lymphoma on January 18th when we reviewed my last PET scan.

The diagnosis wasn't the hard part, very stressful, but not the hardest. The treatment wasn't the hard part. Cutting my hair wasn't even the hard part. Cutting my hair wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. I didn't even cry. Although, I miss my long hair, there is something SO empowering about shaving your head. I think part of me knew that, this was the beginning of a new me.

The hard part is post cancer. I will tell anyone that it is the life after cancer that is the hardest. It feels like you live in a new body, mind, and heart. I am a different person than I was before Hodgkin's. It is hard for people to understand that. They say, “you are finished, you beat it. I knew you could do it. You should be ecstatic. You should be so thankful. You are so blessed. You can resume a normal life.”

I am blessed. I am so happy that I beat cancer. I am thankful. I thought I would return to normal too, but I didn't. I still haven't. Like I said above. Cancer changes you. I have days that I am fine. I feel like the old Liv. The optimistic, bubbly, bright girl I used to be. Then, I have days where I look at old picture of me, and it feels like I can't breathe. I miss that girl. I want to be that girl again. I will never get to be her again and that is fine. The wound is still fresh, but I have accepted that I won't be the same person. Sometimes, it is so hard to explain to other people, that I basically feel like a different person. On the outside I look and act the same as I used to. Though, on the inside, it is a very different person. I will regain normalcy. I have already regained a lot! I am proud of myself. Though, the memories haunt me, I am grateful for the journey. I remember every single detail of every single moment since June 2018, and I will never forget it. It replays in my mind nearly every day.

Words that got me through:

“The Chinese believed to conquer a beast, you must first make it beautiful.”

Here, “beautiful” refers to inner beauty. With inner beauty comes inner peace. When something is at peace with itself, it will cease to be aggressive or hostile towards others. A "beast" behaves in a wild and savage manner because of the inner turmoil it has within itself, it's inner need to fight or attack for survival. Once those inner elements are replaced by peace of the soul (inner beauty), the beast will be less aggressive and therefore easy to tame or conquer.

Proverbs 31:25

“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.”