Because Sometimes You Just Need to Ask About a Dog…

I’m an author. I used to work as a communications officer and as an adjunct professor. Finding words is what I do. Finding words to explain or teach or tell a story. Finding words to clarify information or to show how language works or to create emotions in readers. 
And yet, when I got diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in October 2017, words failed me. How do you tell people you have cancer? I had no clue and was worried about what they would say in return—or not say. It took me months to share the diagnosis with people outside of my very close circle. I didn’t have the words.
I had turned thirty-six a few months before diagnosis. 
For nearly a year, I had been told that:
  • my back pain was due to bad posture and weak muscles, 
  • the incessant itching on my legs and arms was due to dermatitis,
  • and the sharp pain I felt when having only one sip of alcohol didn’t mean anything—despite me mentioning I had read it could be a rare and early sign of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. 
For nearly a year, my symptoms were ignored. 
When the half-gallon tumor started pushing out of my chest, my world imploded. 
Everything moved lightning-fast and way too slow—blood tests, X-ray, CT scan, calling every day to get an appointment for a biopsy as quickly as possible—until a surgeon looked at my scan and moved the appointment up. I still remember him explaining I should sleep propped up to make sure I could breathe. 
Once the biopsy results showed Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I was admitted into the hospital: more scans and a bone marrow biopsy later (I could write an entire article about that experience), I had my first treatment—and an allergic reaction to the anti-nausea medication. 
From the beginning, my voice wasn’t heard. My words didn’t matter. 
I had to quit my job. Our support system was spread around the world and I was scared. There’s no manual on how to be a cancer patient. Yet, I tried so hard to be a “good” one. I didn’t want to be a burden and there’s this pressure, imagined or not, on the need to be positive.
When the neuropathy and dizzy spells made it harder to walk, I told myself I should be more optimistic. 
When I started to lose my hair, I thought I should see the bright side.
When I was crumbling, I berated myself for not smiling more.
The words I could have used to express the emotions rushing through me were hiding under a pile of “should.”
And then, my questions and worries about certain decisions weren’t seriously considered, adding to the stress of it all.
I spent hours researching, reading established medical journals, becoming as informed as I could so that I could feel like a part of my care. More often than not, my concerns were dismissed, resulting in excruciating pain and terrifying moments, that is until the interim PET scan. That scan wasn’t as good as expected. That scan made me “interesting,” according to one of the doctors. I don’t have the words to describe my feelings then.
In the meantime, I wondered what to tell people—readers who inquired about my next book; students and colleagues who reached out; friends who wondered why I wasn’t posting as often on social media. I was waiting for good news to share. Instead, I finally shared what we had been going through as I still had issues breathing and as we were engaging in the process of seeking a second and third opinion. After those opinions, we decided to change care. I say “we” because my husband is and has been there with me every step of the way.
Changing care was a difficult decision to make. Changing care was the best decision for me. Changing care gave us hope. 
I could write novels about that decision.
I am grateful to my entire team at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center for giving us that hope: my oncologist, the whole nursing team, the survivorship navigator, and my therapist, who helped me find ways to deal with my anxiety, understand it’s okay to not be okay and gave me the tools I needed to enjoy the moments I could enjoy more fully. My therapist helped me find my words again. 
At the University of Maryland, I finally felt like a part of the team and didn’t have to worry about my words not being heard.
At the University of Maryland, we found out about the Ulman Foundation and met Megan Solinger, one of Ulman’s Patient Navigators.
Treatment days can be a roller coaster of emotions and physically challenging, even if everyone does everything to make treatments go as smoothly as possible. The nurses in the infusion center were supportive and present and excellent. Like them, Megan from the Ulman Foundation was there at every treatment, making us smile. 
Seeing Megan felt like a window to the “outside” world within the hospital, a moment of normalcy when you no longer know what normal is. Even with the Benadryl making me woozy and with some treatment days better than others, both my husband and I looked forward to seeing Megan. 
Every single time we asked about Megan’s dog. 
She told us about Frankie’s role as a comfort dog for the shock trauma medical team, told us and showed us pictures of him on the paddleboard. We showed her pictures of our beagle. Through each treatment, we spent at least ten minutes feeling like cancer didn’t define us. And I know it doesn’t. Even hooked up to the IV, with drugs dripping into my veins, cancer didn’t define all of me. But during those days especially, it was harder to remember. 
With Megan, we just got to be Alex and Elodie. Just us. Laughing. She offered us a respite in the infusion room where we could talk about treatment, biopsies, or scans, but we didn’t have to. We were not forgetting about what was happening, but I didn’t feel like I had to put on a brave face or be careful about my words. 
We could talk about our dogs.
I asked my husband to tell me a few words about what those moments meant for him as a caregiver. He said, “During that time, Megan being there was a distraction from the treatments that made me feel less alone as a caregiver.”
When I needed radiation, Megan came to see me in the waiting area. When I went through an autologous stem cell transplant, one of the trainees from Ulman came to visit and mentioned Megan was doing Ulman’s Key to Keys bike ride. When I went home after the transplant, she kept in touch via email. 
And I never had to worry about my words. 
Megan and the Ulman Foundation felt like an integral part of our team. And Megan’s dog too.
Because sometimes you just need to ask about a dog.
Elodie Nowodazkij was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in October 2017. She’s currently in remission after many treatments, including an autologous stem cell transplant in October 2019. She’s forever grateful to her team at the University of Maryland, Megan Solinger from the Ulman Foundation, her friends and her entire family, her parents for traveling many times from Europe to help throughout her treatments, Plato the Dog and Bobbie Voltaire The Cat, and her wonderful husband. She’s an author, podcaster, and narrator, and is planning on getting a certificate in human resources.
Elodie wants to find ways to spread hope to others facing those medical world-shattering moments. In 2018, she organized a ‘Let’s Do Something Good’ online auction that benefited foundations helping young adults facing a cancer diagnosis. She’s also tried to raise awareness to the Be The Match (National Marrow Donor Program) registry. And since 2019, she has been fundraising for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Her next novel, #TheLeftoverBride, comes out on September 14th, 2021. It is her first rom-com. She started writing it after her stem cell transplant when she decided she needed to step away from writing about serial killers, at least for a while, and wanted to write a book that made her laugh. You can find her online: www.elodienowodazkij.com 

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