Thrive by IU Health

June 03, 2021

Diagnosis: Hodgkin’s lymphoma - She spent her birthday in the hospital

IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Diagnosis: Hodgkin’s lymphoma - She spent her birthday in the hospital

At first she thought she had allergies, and then Christine Kirk heard the word, “cancer.”

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

It was the day after her 36th birthday, and Christine Kirk sat in the infusion center at IU Health Simon Cancer Center counting the minutes until she could return to her Irvington home. Next to her was a Mylar balloon given to her by a nurse – celebrating her special day.

It wasn’t the birthday Kirk hoped for.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Kirk and her best friend walked an average of three miles each morning. On one walk she became winded and had difficulty completing the distance. By November, she was coughing and decided her allergies were acting up. But in December, she began coughing up blood and had difficulty breathing.

Her primary care physician ordered x-rays and they suspected she had pneumonia, but it wasn’t.

In a post telling her friends about the diagnosis Kirk wrote: “33 days. It’s been 33 days since I sat in my practitioner’s office after being sick for months and she held my hand and said it’s not pneumonia, it’s not good, we think it’s cancer. It’s been 33 days since my rug was pulled out from under me. It’s been 33 days. We’ve had Christmas and New Years, bye 2020, there’s been lots of insurance conversations, scans, blood work, prescriptions, pain, differing diagnoses, port placement, bone marrow biopsy, lymph node biopsy, and lots of unknowns.”

She was first diagnosed at another hospital with Bulky disease, a form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma that resulted in a tumor in her chest. She has since, transferred to IU Health and is in the care of Dr. Jose Azar who specializes in hematology.

“I can’t tell you how much I like him,” said Kirk. “He’s been so thorough in his explanations and I don’t feel like a back seat passenger.” She added, “Simon Cancer Center is a wonderful place to be if you need it.”

She started chemotherapy on Jan. 11 and was hospitalized for six days. Two weeks later she was hospitalized a second time.

A graduate of New Palestine High School and Ball State University, Kirk has worked in education for the past 11 years. She is the daughter of Bill and Mary Kirk and has a sister Melissa Alexander. Along with her boyfriend Brock Loughmiller, her family members enjoy helping her on projects in her two-story fixer-upper.

Loughmiller surrounded by family and friends

For now, she is focused on her health. Writing has helped her navigate that journey.

“Things I know to be true: I’m going to lose my curly hair that I love so much and be sad about it. Faith isn’t a get out of jail free card, and that’s ok. Science is real and it’s going to save me. I hit the ultimate jackpot with an overwhelmingly loving beautiful family and group of friends. God is going to make something beautiful out of this crazy time,” she recently wrote.

By day 47, Kirk began losing her hair and her friend, Leah, a beautician shaved off the curls. He sister and mom showed up for support – they knew it would be painful.

“I burst into tears when I walked in the door, I love going to get my hair done, I love conversations with Leah and feeling like a million bucks when I leave. It hit me I won’t be here for awhile. First COVID took that and forced shops to close for months and now I won’t really have hair to cut for a while. It’s such a trivial thing and yet I’m sure there are some of you reading this now that know exactly what I mean. But hair grows back and mine will too and I’ll return to my normal schedule maybe a little worse for the wear but I’ll have a whole lot more love for life,” Kirk wrote.

After 76 days of treatment, Kirk was one-third of the way finished with her treatment. The chemo is working, her cough is gone, and the tumor is shrinking.

She knows she still has a ways to go. Along that journey she focuses on lessons learned.

“I will not lose this grateful spirit,” said Kirk. And some of those lessons she’s learned: “Be your own advocate, do not apologize for your health even if it’s to a doctor in front of his resident. Don’t back down. You know your body and your pain and you can experience joy and a grateful heart but still experience post-traumatic stress from a very rough time.”

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