Cancer Warrior Calisa Hildebrand
I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in September 2016. I had been planning to do my first Half Ironman that month, but had to cancel those plans because I hadn't been feeling well for months. A few scans, biopsies, and a collapsed lung later, I was diagnosed with cancer. I started fertility treatments the next business day so I could freeze my eggs, and started chemotherapy within days of the egg retrieval.
My lungs reacted negatively to one of the chemo drugs, Bleomycin, which resulted in a potentially fatal side effect called pulmonary toxicity. I'm fortunate to have survived it and proud to say that particular drug has since been replaced for most Hodgkin's patients (thank you, research!).
Chemo treatments only lasted five months, but the recovery process has lasted a year and five months... and counting. I came out of treatment wondering who I am in this world and why I am in this world. I found the Cancer Warrior Foundation through my friend, colleague, and fellow warrior, Amanda Niello. She sat by my side for my first chemo treatment and taught me about the importance of community and connection far before I understood their value and how much I'd need them for years to come.
Through this foundation, I'm meeting more young women who have gone through this experience, and I'm finally realizing that I'm not alone in my fear, pain, and joy. Though I'm somewhat new to the group, I'm starting to feel more purpose and connection each time I speak with someone. The San Francisco kickoff meeting last week was the first time I've shared my story without feeling sad or angry while doing so. I didn't have to hold the pain by myself that day - we held it, and each other, together.
Keep fighting, warriors. There's so much out there for us in the world, and so much love and joy for us to share with each other. I can't wait to meet you in person one day and hear your story.