Double Major Grad- Nicole Munoz
Name: Nicole Munoz
Age at Enrollment: 16 and 23-24
Majors: Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Stage 3b (January – June 2009)
Ewing’s Sarcoma of the uterus/pelvis (October 2015 – October 2016)
What were the primary symptoms you experienced prior to diagnosis? HL: Chest pains
ES: Stomach pains
What symptom(s) lead you to go to the doctor? HL: Chest pains intensifying, not being able to hold food down
ES: Lower stomach hardening and enlarging
Courses completed: HL: 2 biopsies (chest & neck), 3 cycles of chemo, 28 radiation sessions
ES: Hysterectomy, 17 cycles of chemo
What was your hardest moment (or moments) and how did you get through it/them?
HL: Being sick at a very vulnerable age where looks are too important, I struggled greatly with losing my hair. I got through this with support from my family and friends, and by connecting with other young girls who experienced the same.
ES: This second cancer was much more extreme on all levels. Physically the surgery, treatment, and symptoms were more intense. I have never experienced pain and exhaustion on such a deep level. Emotionally I experienced real depression for the first time. I was also stressed trying to support myself as an adult while being sick, and I was constantly worrying about bills, money, etc. when I knew I needed to focus on my health. Also having to have a hysterectomy and lose the ability to create a child at such a young age was heartbreaking. I felt as if I lost something before even getting the chance to have it. That and a cancer diagnosis at the same time were very difficult to process. I focused on my cancer treatment and got through the tough times with an amazing support system and documenting as much as I could in my journey, both the good and the bad times. I also connected more to God, and I am now processing my hysterectomy in therapy. It also helps me to help other young adults with cancer get through their cancer journey!
Any helpful (tangible) tips or tricks you discovered for dealing with your symptoms and/or cancer? Please do not hold your emotions in, let them out! Whether that is a cry, yell, scream, laugh, etc. just do it. There is so much on your plate with little energy when you go through cancer treatment, so we need to save that strength and not let our emotions stay bottled inside. Sometimes I had to wake up and simply cry in bed for 10 minutes before I could get up and say okay, this is real, I will get through it. I also suggest (if you are comfortable with it) documenting your journey via social media. I did this for my second cancer. I was older and more mature and saw this as an opportunity for me to open up and that I was meant to help others with cancer as well. It not only connected me to many amazing fighters and survivors, but it also helped me relieve some stress and negative emotions!
How did you find joy during this experience? I found joy by staying in contact with my loved ones, and by making new friends along the way. There were days where I was too tired to even touch my phone, but I kept up as much as I could. It made me feel “normal” still to have conversations and not just talk about my illness and how I was feeling. I also took up new hobbies such as watercolor painting and making dream catchers. I also prayed a lot more and connected to God on a deeper level.
Did you learn anything about yourself? If so, what was it? I learned that I am my biggest critic. Even before my experience with my cancers, I was always very hard on myself. I was never satisfied and always thought I could look and/or do better. I am working on loving my whole being. Cancer has changed me in many ways, and I need to learn to love the person that is here, because I could not be here today. I am a work in progress but I know I will get there! I also learned to listen to my body and that is truly is a fighter. My body fought off a lot and amazed me because it showed me that I was truly meant to be here for a reason. I have a purpose and it was not my time to leave just yet!
These are just more fun facts about my cancer experience:
My motto during my cancer journeys was “I have cancer, cancer does not have me.”
My second was so rare that they wrote a medical journal on my case. They could not find a single piece of medical literature of a case like mine.
I grew up in a town that had cancer-causing chemicals in the water for over 40 years.