I’m 21 Going On 71 – Or So It Feels

by Shelby Caban
Shelby along her battle with lymphoma

I often joke and say, “I’m 21 going on 71, or so it feels. I’ve been through more than many elderly people have. ” But sometimes, it’s not a joke at all. It’s how I feel, especially since my doctors say that my body is that of an old woman’s. However, I refuse to let my cancer stop me; here is the story of my battle with lymphoma.

My story

My story started when I was 11 months old. I was diagnosed with severe asthma, and I progressively got worse. Worse to the point that I could no longer walk up a flight of stairs without my mom carrying me. Little did we know, it was not asthma but a failing heart. I was born with a rare heart disease called restrictive cardiomyopathy.

I was in heart failure at the age of 10 and needed a new heart to survive. Unable to go home, I spent Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve, and Valentine’s Day in the hospital, waiting for my new heart.

I received my heart transplant, and it was as if I was reborn! Finally, I could breathe, and not only could I walk up a flight of stairs, but I could run up a flight of stairs.

I was doing well with my new heart, except 9 years later (2 years ago), I was diagnosed with almost stage 3 post-transplant, Hodgkin-like lymphoma. I had to do 8 months of chemotherapy via a PICC line in my arm. Not only did the PICC line deliver chemo, but it delivered my blood and platelets for my many blood transfusions.

My confidence

My PICC became my new buddy because I lost my BEST bud, my hair. I lost my long, beautiful hair, along with 25 pounds. At 19 years old, I was bald and only 75 pounds. I felt disgusting. What seemed so minuscule was so important to me.

When I had my heart transplant, I never looked visibly sick, but my lymphoma made me look like a different person, and it took every ounce of confidence I had.

I remember I would stare at myself in the mirror and cry. I felt so ugly and dependent on the people around me. Things that were so simple for other people, like walking to the bathroom or taking a shower, were impossible for me to do alone. I needed someone to physically walk with me and bathe me because I had lost my ability to do so.

Cancer can take a lot of things, but I did not let it strip me of my happiness and hope; nothing could stop me. I am one year in remission, and I still have my healthy, transplanted heart with some hair back. My journey with lymphoma and chronic illness has been a long and rough one, to say the least, but I am back!

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