I’ve just finished my freshman year at Northwestern University as a Theatre major. I’m staying in Evanston to work at a theatre camp for the summer. I’m independent, I tell myself. I’m starting to be a real grown-up. This is it.
I sublet a room from a buddy who just graduated. My friends Kelly and Mark are my roommates for the summer. Kelly and I are working together at the camp, and Mark’s working in the back of Al’s Deli. I’ll be stage managing my friends in a production of Macbeth.
At nineteen years old, it feels like I’ve got it made. It never crosses my mind that anything could change this.
I’m not sleeping well. Or, rather, I’m sleeping a lot - 10, 11 hours at a time. I’m still exhausted when I wake up, and I’m finding it hard not to nap during the day (which is saying something, given the number of kids around me each day). I chalk it up to partying and drinking (even though I’m really not doing much of either), and try to read before bed instead.
I’ve also noticed this weird little bump on my collar bone. It feels like I’ve got the tiniest hardened pebble under my skin; it’s right on top of the bone, halfway between my adam’s apple and my shoulder. Weird.
My dad comes to visit for a couple of days. I point out the spot on my clavicle. He dismisses it, saying that it’s nothing. If it hurts, see a doctor. Otherwise, it’s probably just calcium. You’re looking good, though, he says. Did you lose weight?
Camp’s over; I’ve flown home for my brother’s eighteenth birthday. We surprise him in the backyard with a bunch of his friends. It’s nice to be around before I go back to school for my sophomore year. In the back of my mind, I’m already planning what Mike and I are going to do with our dorm room, how I’m going to direct my spring production of Taming of the Shrew and produce L&M’s production of Richard III.
The bump is still there. And now a bigger one’s formed on my neck. Over the next week, it grows to the size of a golf ball. Concerned, my parents send me to a family doctor. He thinks it’s fluid that’s collected, and sends me to an orthopedic surgeon for X-Rays (they don’t have the equipment to check it our properly).
The ortho takes a single look at it and sends me to the hospital for blood work and more tests. My grandfather, a doctor in NJ, consults with the hospital. In the car, my dad is visibly shaken. It will take more tests to confirm, he says, but it looks like Hodgkin’s Disease.
Okay. What is that?
I’m nineteen years old. In an instant, my whole life falls apart. And I have to start putting it back together again.