28-year-old Jessica DeCristofaro had been coughing persistently and she was told by her doctor that it was a result of allergies. She even took medication for her supposed allergies over the course of two years. When the medication failed to improve her persistent cough, another doctor diagnosed her with acid reflux and told her that she should change her diet. After experiencing severe abdominal pain in 2015, Jessica was told that she had pulled a muscle and that all she needed to do to get better was to rest.
However, over time, her pain became even more severe and she developed a lump in her armpit. She was told that the lump was a cyst but eventually, she emitted herself to emergency care because she had been experiencing agonizing pain in her abdomen. “I was supposed to travel for work so I thought I would go to the emergency room and get some pain relievers, but I ended up staying overnight and having all these tests,” she said. The results of her tests revealed devastating news – a diagnosis of stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma. She was immediately started on chemotherapy and in two months’ time, she went into remission. However, by the month of April, Jessica’s cancer had returned and this time, it had spread to her chest. She was started on 20 rounds of radiotherapy and 6 rounds of chemotherapy.
Feeling lost without a guide
While Jessica was not shocked to learn about her cancer diagnosis, she did feel frustrated that six different doctors blew off her persistent cough as just allergies, acid reflux, and a pulled muscle. “I think they thought I was young and healthy but I had a feeling something was wrong, I felt so sick for so long,” she said. She also felt saddened and very much in the dark by the fact that there was no guidebook available for patients coping with cancer. “I was so sick I didn’t know what to do. My hair was falling out in clumps, it made me sick to my stomach. Emotionally I couldn’t do it. I had to find all these books to tell me what was going to happen,” she said. In her efforts to help fellow cancer patients, Jessica launched a blog in which she began sharing own experiences with cancer, including topics that address chemotherapy, survivor’s guilt, dating after cancer, and having cancer friends. She refused to let cancer get her down and she continued to put on make-up and a wig every day. The nurses at the cancer center started calling her a Barbie doll, hence the inspiration for the name of her blog – Lymphoma Barbie. “I’ve met so many people going through the same thing and have so many people writing to me every day. It saved me,” she said.
30 things she learned by 30
In one particular post on her blog, Jessica stresses 30 things that cancer had taught her by the age of 30. Below is a mere selection of 15 of her most powerful lessons learned:
- You must live while you can because life is short
- Family is everything and it is important that you spend time with them
- You should change your life if you are not happy with it
- You should make time for what is important to you
- You should learn not to take things personally
- You should get out of your comfort zone and say yes to things even if they may you feel frightened
- You should travel as much as you can and as far as you can, while you are able to do so
- You are a direct reflection of your environment;
- You cannot expect someone to love you, unless you love yourself first
- You realize who your true friends are when bad things happen
- No individual can fully understand what you are going through unless they have gone through it themselves
- There is a reason for every single individual that walks into your life
- Thoughts become things
- Life is too short to settle
- Always stay humble and kind
With openness comes criticism
From the day that she decided to go public with her blog, Jessica realized that she would be criticized – and she was. She was criticized for wearing wigs, she was criticized for going through chemotherapy instead of something more homeopathic, and she was even told that she would go to hell for undergoing chemotherapy. She continues to endure many criticisms and while she views herself as a strong and courageous individual - words hurt. “And people may forget those words you say, but they will never forget how you made them feel,” she said. For this reason, Jessica stresses that as individuals, we must always strive to be kind. We must try to help others understand and fight back with love and not hate. “We are all fighting a battle that others know nothing about, and I’m sure that these people are fighting their own internal battles, which makes them act the way that they do,” she said.
While Jessica considered herself to be a private individual before her diagnosis, her journey with cancer inspired her to share her story with others in an attempt to help save the lives of individuals going through similar experiences. “It can give them hope, and show them that they will get through this, and life will go on,” she said.
A new book with a noble cause
She received so many positive responses in her documentation on her blog that she decided to write a cancer guide book, titled Talk Cancer to Me. In her book, Jessica talks about the stress she endured with her unexplained symptoms, her consultation with different specialists, as well as her diagnosis with Hodgkin lymphoma. She opens up about the emotional and physical obstacles that patients with cancer typically go through, all while using positivity, hopefulness, and humor to shine a bright light under terrible circumstances. She also includes practical tips and advice on shopping for wigs, dieting while undergoing radiation therapy, and staying strong through cancer treatment. A majority of the proceeds from her book go to funding for cancer research.
Jessica has been in remission since August of 2016. It took losing her health to change her entire attitude and to help her learn to embrace life. It made her become the person that she is today – kind and humble. To this day, Jessica strives to be a good person and she is friends with various groups of people - individuals who were with her during the most difficult year of her life and people who she would stand beside in a heartbeat. “No matter how educated, talented, good looking, wealthy, or cool you believe you are, how you treat people always tells all. Integrity is everything,” she said. It is easy to snap back at an individual who is unkind, but how can you truly be sure what he or she is going through? While there is no excuse for unkind behavior, sometimes silence is the best answer. This is what Jessica strives to prove. “Everyone we meet is fighting a battle that we know nothing about. That’s why it’s so important to be kind,” she said.