Lynsey Wood Brinkerhoff
March 11, 2010: Fatigue, fever, chills, night sweats, itching, and weight loss... and a healthy baby girl just four days old. Mom is only 24 but knows the ropes of motherhood thanks to Jaylum, age 2, and little Joshua, age 6. Hormones can cause a number of new and interesting effects not unlike these being experienced by Lynsey Wood Brinkerhoff. So surrounded by her young family, nursing Jaynee, it was easy to dismiss the distinct lump in the center of her throat nestled between her clavicles. However, the pain and size needed attention.
Consulting her ob/gyn, she learned about a condition called postpartum thyroid. Since her doctor was out of town, she went to the emergency room two days later. The blood tests were all normal. Lynsey was not content without knowing what was really wrong then. The details she can recall make it seem like time was moving in slow motion.
After the blood tests, a CT scan was done. The radiologist did not want to scare her, but did not sugarcoat the findings - possible lymphoma. That's when she thought, "Are you saying I have cancer?"
Within about a week she saw and oncologist and an ear, nose, and throat specialist. They started her on heavy-duty antibiotics and steroids to reduce the swelling. Learning the only definitive way to diagnose cancer is through a biopsy, she went in for a surgical biopsy. The premise being pain + swelling = infection and lymphoma. Crossed fingers, waiting.
April 1, 2010, April Fool's Day, formerly called All Fool's Day. Lynsey received a phone call from the pathology office telling her the lump was not cancerous. Excitedly, she spread the good news.
Then there was another call. Why? To apologize for the first call. She was given the wrong information. She does have Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Not wanting to believe it, she thought it was a cruel April Fool's joke. Surely, they must be wrong. Then things began to move too fast for her to keep up with. Appointments were made, but not by her. She could not wrap her brain around what was happening. So many medical terms and procedures - bone marrow aspiration, PET scan, chemotherapy, radiation. Where, in all of this, did the simple joys of motherhood slip away to?
April 11, 2010, One month after finding the lump, Lynsey had dozens of blood tests, scans, and had started the first of four sets of chemotherapy infusions to battle the Stage II-B cancer that had invaded her neck and chest.
After the 16 chemo treatments, she had one month reprieve before starting 17 radiation treatments. The daunting task of driving to and from Salt Lake five days a week was eliminated by a woman Lynsey had never met. Her husband, Josh, works at Trimac in Cleveland. A co-worker of his in Arizona made all the arrangements and payments through Trimac for Lynsey, her little ones, and her mother to stay in a hotel in Salt Lake for the entire month she would be having the radiation treatments. What a tremendous gift.
Once Lynsey was diagnosed, her parents and husband began to read as much as they could about the disease. Lynsey never did. Everything was moving so fast she never felt ready for treatments or their nasty side effects. She says, "It never seemed real to me." That is until the last chemotherapy treatment when she was overcome by emotions for five days as it struck her just how sick she was.
Lynsey sees her oncologist every three months for check-ups. Hodgkin's has a cure rate in the high 90's if it is found early. She was told that she was doing great and would keep doing great. That's about when she felt brave enough to ask about the disease. The doctor told her she probably had the cancer for two years or more prior to her diagnosis.
As they discussed symptoms she recalled being itchy during the last three months of her pregnancy, having night sweats, and body aches. Then she asked the "what if?" question that every cancer patient asks at some point in time... What would've happened if she didn't find that lump when she was nursing her five day old baby?
The oncologist told Lynsey that if the Hodgkin's had gone one more month undetected it would have been fatal. The swollen lymph nodes would be too taxing and overpower her heart and lungs. That didn't seem real at all. It doesn't help that Lynsey has some difficulty recalling all that has happened to her. She thinks the memory gaps are a self-defense mechanism. If she could remember everything, she may not be able to handle it.
Some of the things she remembers clearly are her beautiful, long, blonde hair that all fell out and was eventually replaced with curly locks that didn't behave or belong. She remembers how tired she would get and the pain that jumped up without warning to defeat her attempts to hold and cuddle her children. She remembers how angry and ornery she was when she was taking steroids.
Cancer changed her life both in ways she didn't want and ways that were blessings. Some of the negative shadows that she drags with are the after effects of the steroids, weight gain, constant fatigue, and being so tired of being tired. When Lynsey starts getting stuck in the downward spiral of discouragement and depression, she can look back at the benefits she and her very large family has experienced.
Both Josh, who is the oldest of nine children, and Lynsey, who is fifth of six - have grown closer to each one of their family members. The support has been constant and ongoing. She still has days when it's just too painful or difficult to even get out of bed. That's when she turns to her children and pulls herself up by her bootstraps to go on. They lift and motivate her. She finds the reason to live in their eyes and words.
Little Joshua told her that he loved her even without hair. That makes him a little hero, like the lady from Trimac. Jaylum and Jaynee are little heroes, too. Someday they will look back and marvel at all Lynsey has done. Until then, they will just help motivate and love Lynsey.
A bright, clear-eyed, energetic young woman of 25 shouldn't have to think of her future in terms of a bucket list, but when a doctor looks at you and says, "You have cancer," then you make the time to reprioritize.
First on the bucket list was a home of their own. They had no idea how it would come about, but they set to it and are in their very own.
Next will be a vacation - with or without kids, but a real vacation. A sense of self-satisfaction, to play more with the kids and appreciate Josh more, and to serve others, a chance to repay some of the little heroes who have helped along the way.
Lynsey feels one way to help is Relay for Life. She has four very important reasons to Relay and they will be with her at the Emery High School track on July 15 at 6 p.m.
Come join your community, meet Lynsey and give her the chance to brighten your day. We all have reasons to Relay.