Lee Ann Proia
Towards the end of the summer, 2018, I started to feel fatigued and lost my appetite. Over the next six months I lost nearly fifty pounds. I went to my general practitioner, you know, the “good old boy”, local doctor that has taken care of me for nearly 40 years, to let him know I wasn’t feeling well. I had sores in my mouth and pain in my gut. He referred me to my dentist. The dentist pulled a tooth that was infected and was put on an antibiotic. Still felt “not quite right.” My dentist referred me back to my doctor. He put
me on an antibiotic as well. It didn’t make a difference. Tried something for irritable bowel syndrome. Nothing.
In January, 2019, I visited my daughter and grandchildren in California. I was happy to just sit at home and watch them play. I am typically a busy person and enjoy going and doing things all the time, but I found I was content to do nothing.
When I returned, I went to see my doctor again because now it
felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. He did some blood tests, followed by a scan of some
kind that showed I had a tumor in my spleen and a cyst in my pancreas. He referred me to a surgeon to
have my spleen removed, thinking the cyst was not cancerous but certain the tumor was. The surgeon
had a tumor board that discussed my case and it was decided that we should do a needle biopsy of both.
The biopsies both showed lymphoma.
The surgeon then referred me to an oncologist who gave me two
options; remove the spleen and biopsy the large mass to determine the strain of lymphoma – the surgery wouldn’t be for at least a month, then I would have to recover before treating the cancer in the pancreas, or start aggressive chemotherapy immediately – which would attack both areas. I opted for the second. That was on March 19, 2019.
After the CT Scan & PET Scan it was determined that I had a tumor that was 7” x 3” on my spleen and it was pushing against my stomach…this explained my inability to eat. The
cyst in my pancreas was about 1”x1”.
In April, 2019, I began chemotherapy. It was scheduled six times, once every three weeks. After two weeks my hair began to fall out in clumps. My friend, Jan, offered to shave it for me. Her sister had also
been recently diagnosed with cancer and she had shaved her head to show her support.
After the second treatment my oncologist did another CT Scan and the tumor and cyst had both reduced in size more than 50%. The chemo was working. My appetite began to return.
My Crown Experience
Amanda Joy Gilbert invited me to experience a “Henna Crown of Courage.” On June 12 th , along with four good friends, we headed to Tim Priest’s photography studio. He offered to photograph the experience of the day. There was an intern there to video the day as well. Amanda presented me with a beautiful gift basket compiled of thoughtful gifts, lotions, encouraging signs, and a reminder that I am loved. I gave each of my friends a golden cardboard crown and a little goodie bag to make sure they knew that I appreciated them too. They are all royalty in my book!
A make-up artist started off by turning me away from the mirror and telling me I couldn’t look until the Crowning was complete. She applied make-up, including false eye lashes as my friends got better acquainted and ooed and aahed over my transformation. Amanda snuck my friends away to another part of the studio and interviewed them, finding out what they thought my passions were. Their ideas were going to be incorporated into the Henna Crown. As Amanda prepared me for the crown, she held my hands and talked to me in a calm, loving voice. Encouraging me, praying with me, loving me. Amanda and another henna artist began working on my bald head and my hands. The smell of lavender was calming and watching my friends laugh and enjoy themselves made me feel such joy. Just the fact that they would give up an entire day to support me on my journey was overwhelming.
I brought with me a sari I had gifted my mother after my trip to India. The colors reminded me of Monet paintings, which she always loved. I wore the sari for the photo shoot and felt my mother’s presence the entire day. She would have loved this.
When Amanda was done with my Henna Crown it was time for the reveal. She walked me to the room with the big mirrors and turned me around. I couldn’t believe it was me I was looking at. I felt beautiful for the first time in a very long time. These women did an amazing job with everything. Wiping away tears of joy, trying not to mess up my make-up, we hugged. Now it was time for a few photos.
I listened to Tim and Amanda as they directed me to move my hands a certain way, tip my head that way, smile just a little bit more…before you know it, we were done.
The ladies and I went to lunch and talked about the experience. I don’t like to be the center of attention, but suddenly felt like I was. I was able to share the experience with others and spread the word about Amanda’s non-profit organization. The following week while volunteering in Spring Lake with some friends, I found my crown open up conversations about surviving cancer, shared experiences, and received prayers and words of encouragement from total strangers. The photos turned out to be absolutely amazing. This is an experience I will never forget.
Through every step of a journey you can find joy. This was something I would never have done had this disease hadn’t
robbed me of my hair, but it made me look at things differently, introduced me to some wonderful people, and gave me something positive to remember for the rest of my life.
By my sixth session I had gained back 15 pounds and my hair has begun to return. I am still waiting for the final scan to say that I’m in remission. There is no cure for Lymphoma. Mine is stage 4, which means it was found in two or more organs. I will never be the same again. It will always be lying in wait and I will need to be checked and watched for the rest of my life. This journey has changed me. It has reminded me of what is really important. It has reminded me to trust in the Lord. It has made me simplify my life and slow down and enjoy every moment. It has made me see how many people love me. It has made me bolder, stronger, tougher.
I don’t know what the future will bring. I can’t change the past. It’s all okay.
Read More Crowns of Courage Experiences
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. You may ask yourself, “What does that mean to me?” Well last year, I would have asked myself the same question…until my daughter, Cadia, was diagnosed with B-cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at the age of 9 in August of 2016.
I found a lump in my breast doing a self check. It was the beginning of June and I felt a very large lump. I knew right away it was cancer, just a gut feeling.
My advice for others going through cancer is to have a great support system and choose to be thankful in each moment and each day focus on the positive.