As CARE Las Cruces gears up for its annual Big Event, Jaymee Fiskum shares her personal journey with cancer and how the local organization has helped and supported her and her family.
Written by Jaymee Fiskum
Where do I begin?
Well, I was diagnosed in May 2013 with Anaplastic Large T-cell Lymphoma, small cell variant—fancy, huh?
I was about to finish my third year of college. This was all right before finals. I had just been extremely tired. Working part time with kiddos and also pursuing a degree in early childhood education, I figured I was doing too much and being exhausted was understandable.
I would sleep for about 12 hours on the weekend and would still be so tired. I remember it was a tired feeling I had never had before. One night, I took a shower, and found a huge bump on my groin area. It really freaked me out! I told my roommate at the time, Shelby, to come check it out. It was very noticeable. I figured with some ibuprofen and some meds that it would go away by morning.
But it didn’t. It got worse and started to hurt. I went into work that day unable to do my job. I told one of my coworkers that I needed to leave, then called my boyfriend, Justin, and my gynecologist right away. Justin met me and we went together. I was terrified. Especially since nothing medically has ever happened to me. Shoot, I’ve never even had a cavity!
My GYN told me that I had a hernia. Of course, I believed him! I remember at the time I freaked out, because again, I didn’t know much about anything medical. I started crying in Justin’s truck, telling him I wouldn’t be able to have babies. Goodness, little did I know.
I then had to meet with a surgeon in a few days. The pain started to get worse and worse. My lower back then started to hurt and I just couldn’t handle it. I was so weak. I remember not being able to stand up in the shower.
But I kept pushing it because I was told that a hernia was common and that it could be fixed easily. I was more worried about my project and finals for school.
I saw the surgeon and he said I’d need an ultrasound. I went and did that about a week later. By then I was miserable. It just kept getting worse and worse.
I remember getting home right after my ultrasound and my surgeon called me and said, “You may want to go to the ER, but you don’t have to. It’s your choice, but I would advise you to.”
I had just gotten something to eat with my dad and really just wanted a nap, but my dad insisted we go. So we did.
The first thing they did was draw blood. We were told my fallopian tubes were full of fluids and I would need emergency surgery.
My blood results came back with a count of 86,000. A normal blood count is from 4,000 to 11,000. Of course, they redrew it because they thought it could’ve been contaminated. But nope. came back just the same.
The first thing that came out of my mouth was, “I don’t want to die.”
I was terrified. I was in disbelief. So many emotions ran through my head. My mom, Justin, and Kait, my sister, were also there. I just remember getting admitted into a room and thinking, “This can’t be true.”
To be honest, I never really heard of cancer. I had a really good friend from Norway get cancer a few years after we graduated from college. She died from it, so I was terrified. I didn’t want to die also. That night I thought of her a lot. I didn’t sleep much that night.
It was very difficult to get diagnosed here in Las Cruces. Doctors couldn’t figure out if I had lymphoma or leukemia. My oncologist told us he couldn’t treat us here. He also said I would need a possible stem cell transplant with the type of disease I had. He knew another doctor that could get my exact diagnosis.
There was so much information it was quite confusing at the time. I was in so much pain, had a fever 24/7, and felt so weak.
We were told I would need to leave that night for MDAnderson in Houston, Texas. My parents, sister, and Justin all went home to pack. It was crazy how fast things were going.
We finally got to Houston and did a bunch of tests all week. Trying to figure out what I had exactly. My cancer was very aggressive. Stage 6 actually. Immediate attention was needed right away.
The love and support I had from my family, my boyfriend of three years, at the time, friends, people in my community, people from France, family from Norway, people I didn’t even know—wow, it was just unbelievable!!! I was actually blown away by how much support I received. It actually still amazes me to this day to be completely honest.
That in itself was very humbling and gave me the drive to fight. It made me want to beat cancer. I couldn’t lose.
In September 2013, I received a stem cell transplant from my younger sister, Kaitlin. She saved my life. Without her, I wouldn’t be here today.
I survived six rounds of chemo and also my stem cell transplant. I was in the clear, cancer free. Wow!!! Such an amazing feeling! To get a second chance at life is probably the most rewarding thing I have ever been given.
About a year after my transplant, I developed something called GVHD, or graft-versus-host disease. Basically, Kaitlin’s cells didn’t like their “new home” and wanted to attack my body, which isn’t good. That could lead to rejection, recurrence of cancer, or death.
During this time we had to move to Houston, again, so I could get treated and do something called photopheresis. We were very fortunate to be able to live with family members there to help with living expenses, once again.
Team Jaymee got back together and raised money once again for me and my family. We also were able to get assistance from CARE, a non- profit organization here in town that helps cancer patients financially.
After living in Houston a little over a year, we were able to come back home. Since I still have GVHD in my lungs, I’ve been going to Houston quite often, every three weeks. Now we are able to go every six weeks, which is so nice. CARE helps us with travel expenses when we go. Traveling back and forth becomes very expensive, so it is nice to get help when we can.
What I’ve learned about cancer is that life is precious. Don’t stress so much. Be kind to your body because it’s the only one you have.
If you ever want to help someone or do a good deed, donate blood and platelets, and sign up on Be The Match. You could save so many lives with just those three things. I can’t explain how much blood and platelets I needed throughout chemo.
There are so many ways to give back to those who need it.
What Local Cancer Patients Want You to Know
Diagnosis: Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma (Thyroid Cancer)
“Family has been the most beneficial for me during my treatment. I am very fortunate to have a supportive and loving family. They have been with me every step of the way, sometimes traveling two hours each way just to be there with me for a 45-minute appointment. The financial aid offered by CARE is a huge help. Dealing with a cancer diagnosis is stressful all on its own, but then you compound that with the financial burdens associated with treating cancer, it becomes a nightmare. The financial assistance provided by CARE helped relieve some of that burden and allowed me to focus more energy on my wellbeing. When I started researching available resources, I found that other communities don’t have organizations like CARE, who provide financial assistance for non-medical costs. CARE recognized that after all the medical bills have piled up, there are still expenses in traveling to and from doctors’ appointments, hotel stays, meals, and making sure utility bills and mortgages are being paid. We are fortunate to have an organization like CARE in Doña Ana County.”
Diagnosis: Retroperitoneal Sarcoma (Rare Cancer of the Connective Tissues Covering the Abdominal Organs)
“When I found out I had cancer I was floored. I’d never been to the hospital and I was never sick. I lost 50 pounds between my first doctor visit and my last surgery, but it wasn’t because of the cancer. It was because I wasn’t eating. I was so nervous and scared, and that wasn’t like me. You never know how you are going to react to something like this. I also missed my family.
Having to be away from them, was difficult. Sometimes I would just sit there and think and I would cry. My family is always there for me. All my friends offered me so much support. Yoli Diaz at CARE really made a difference helping with the bills as I was getting treatment. CARE is so awesome and life changing. Cancer is a terrible thing, and it is difficult to deal with. The hardest part is not knowing. You can go months without a diagnosis, or have a diagnosis and think everything is fine, but then that feeling is shattered. Having cancer brings on so many emotions you didn’t even know you had. You become a different person.”
Read more about Belsan’s and Christa’s cancer journey at: LasCrucesMagazine.com/CARE
Anaplastic large cell lymphoma: A rare type of NHL, and one of the subtypes of T-cell lymphoma. ALCL comprises about one percent of all NHLs and approximately 16 percent of all T-cell lymphomas. Initial symptoms of ALCL can include fever, backache, painless swelling of lymph nodes, loss of appetite, and tiredness.
Stem cell transplant: A procedure that replaces unhealthy blood-forming cells with healthy cells. This allows doctors to give large doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy to increase the chance of eliminating blood cancer in the marrow.
Graft-versus-host disease: Develops when the donor’s immune cells mistakenly attack the patient’s normal cells. GVHD can be mild, moderate or severe — even life threatening.
Photopheresis: A procedure in which blood is taken from one lumen of your central venous catheter and processed through a cell separation machine. This machine removes and treats your lymphocytes and then returns them and the rest of your blood through a different lumen in your central venous catheter.
WANT TO HELP?
Cancer Aid Resource & Education, Inc. (CARE’s) focus is to provide assistance to our local community, especially cancer patients and their families to help them cope with their cancer journey.
2nd Annual The Big Event….
A Community that CAREs
September 21-24, 2017
The Big Event is one of the largest cancer fundraisers in the state of New Mexico, with the proceeds entirely benefit the people of our community. It will kick off with a golf tournament on Thursday, September 21. The event will include The Big Event Parade, vendors, music, entertainment and more!
To learn more about the Big Event and the CARE organization, visit: carelascruces.org