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 senior at Northeastern University studying Environmental Science. She’s passionate about conservation, and is happiest spending time outdoors. Her favorite activities include running, boxing, reading, and completing jigsaw puzzles with her friends. Rebecca was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in September 2014, and is proud to share her experiences balancing college life and her battle with cancer.