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Survivor Interview – Della R.

Della is a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor. She talks about navigating the health care system, setting priorities in her life, and being spiritual.

A senior woman with short hair and a multicolored shirt is interviewed on a black background

I was real tired all the time. I thought it was from my job. I’m a food service clerk. My neck and my head would be so tired by the time I’d go home, and I’d go to bed by 8:30 or 9:00. It went on like that for a few months. Then I found a big lump on my neck.

When I first went to Anchorage to get my treatment, my mom decided to follow me. The hospital paid my way. When I had to start chemotherapy, my husband paid his way to go down and be with me. My mother came down too. Then he wanted to follow me again. At first, the hospital in Anchorage would ask, “Do you need an escort?” And I’d say, “Yes.” We’d come home and get a note in the mail saying that my husband is denied. We didn’t question that or nothing. We thought, “Oh, maybe it’s because he’s working.” They denied his ticket here. So, I’d go down by myself and get my chemo.

I had to have three of them. My husband came down for two. He’d come down, be with me and then fly back home. He’d pay for his ticket. I’d stay down in Anchorage for a few days because I’d have problems after taking chemo. Every time I’d go down for a checkup, they’d ask me if I’d need an escort, and I’d say, “Yes.” And then when I’d come back, they denied him again. When I went back down for treatments and they asked me, “Do you need an escort?” I said, “You know what? Every time I say ’Yes, I need an escort,’ he gets denied.” And she said, “You know what? That’s not right. You’re going through chemo. You need someone with you.” They got on the phone, called the hospital and talked to the people. They told them that he needs to come with me when I need to come.

After going through chemo, you’re real tired and weak. I notice I’m getting a little stronger now that I’m feeling a lot better. I miss going hunting and camping with my husband. Fishing, boating. I miss berry picking, and I miss doing my sewing projects, my crocheting. I know there are a lot of times my husband would ask me to follow him and go visit friends or relatives. I would be too tired, or I just didn’t want to go.

I was very depressed when I couldn’t do anything. I had some very close friends and my husband. I would talk to them about my problems, about being depressed. My husband was very supportive of me. And my mother. They’d be there and just listen to me when I talked to them about stuff.

My husband and I, we got so much closer. My kids, they’re so much closer too. My grandkids. They’re more concerned. They’re always worried about me, any little thing I do. They like to help me more than they used to.

Don’t be afraid to talk to anybody about your problems, about what you’re going through. I started reading this Guideposts book, and I got the chills because this woman doctor was on the front page, and she was diagnosed with lymphoma. She found her lump the same place I found mine. She had a lot of encouragement. One of the things that I learned in that book that she wrote was, “If people come over, want to help you, just let them help you. Pray for you, anything. Just let them do it. Don’t say no.” You’re not gonna have the strength to do the things that you want to do.

Don’t be afraid to accept their help. They’re there to help you, pray for you, and encourage you. Just let them do it. Even when they want to come over to clean your house, cook for you, anything. Just let them do it.

I thought a lot of things were not that important anymore. I used to like to go to bingo quite a bit. I don’t go as often as I used to. I used to make sure my house was real clean before I have company or guests. Now it’s like I don’t care. I don’t care if it’s clean or not. I tell my guests or my family, “You’re welcome here. If my house is a mess, that’s okay with me. I’m happy.” I’m happy now. I’m healthy. After having cancer, I couldn’t do anything. It doesn’t matter, now that I’m healthy. I’m trying to help my mom more, now that she’s elderly. When I was going through cancer treatments, she went through open-heart surgery, and that part was real hard for me. She was at the same hospital in Anchorage going through her surgery while I would go downstairs and get my radiation. I’d have to run up and go be with her. I appreciate life more now.

There were a lot of people praying for me. I was praying a lot too. I wanted to get well again for my kids and my family. I know the reason why I’m still here is because God was there for me. There were a lot of people that would stop me anywhere I’d go, telling me they’re praying for me. Churches, from the villages, towns, out of town, in Anchorage, wherever. Every time they see me, they’d tell me they’d be praying for me. I know I’m here because of their prayers and knowing that God is there for me.

My name is Della Rich. I’m a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor.

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