In August 2014, I was an energetic 19-year-old, excited to start my second year studying Environmental Science at Northeastern University. I had spent all summer happily working outdoors at my restoration ecology internship. My free time was focused on running and working out at the gym. Throughout the summer, I had kept up a group chat with two college friends filled with updates about our daily fitness progress- together, we were determined to join the triathlon team.

I was excited to end my suburban summer and move in to an on-campus apartment with my five best friends in Boston. Come September I moved into the new apartment, purchased a bike, rented my textbooks, and the new school year was off to a great start.

On my first day of classes, I took advantage of the university pool to squeeze in a swim workout. I was gasping for breath after only 20 minutes; my body absolutely exhausted. Swimming is tough and I had forgotten that it engages different muscle groups than running does. When I got home, I kept rolling my shoulders forward and backwards, working out a kink in my back. However, I couldn’t shake the pain. Over the course of the next few days, I was suddenly hyper-aware of the pressure in my back. I complained to my friends, who suggested that I pulled a muscle or pinched a nerve. As active, young college students, we had no reason to believe that it could ever be anything more serious.

Fast forward two weeks, and I’m panicking on a Skype call with my parents. University Health Care prescribed me muscle relaxers and physical therapy- the first made me fall asleep during my organic chemistry lectures and the second only enflamed my pain. Besides the pain in my back, my neck was oddly swollen and I had intense shooting pain down my left arm. Lying down was too painful, and I had taken up a habit of falling asleep in a sitting position.

My parents advised me to visit the ER, selling it to me as “one stop shopping” for my sudden compounding aches and pains. Reluctantly, I agreed to go to the next day. That night, I fell asleep crying, in too much pain to lie down. I hated to admit it, but deep down I knew something was very wrong. Over and over in my head I repeated to myself that it was only a pulled muscle, that everything was going to be all right, and that the doctors were going to help me. Exhausted, I fell asleep….

This is part one of Rebecca’s diagnosis story. Please check back on Tuesday for part two.

Rebecca Hoffman
Rebecca is a Boston-based contributor who is proud to share her experiences as a Young Adult survivor of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. She's passionate about healthy living + the environment, and in her free time enjoys running, reading, and exploring the city.