During freshman year of college, Taylor Reed discovered a lump in her neck. She was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and began her journey through chemo and hair loss when she should’ve been entering her sophomore year. This is her story.
Hey Taylor, thanks for taking the time to share your story. Let’s start at the beginning. What happened?
I was at college and working out a lot. So when I felt this lump in my neck, I just thought I pulled a muscle, and it was swollen. I didn’t think it was anything serious.
One of the key signs of cancer is fatigue, but I was a college kid so of course I was tired! It didn’t stick out to me.
When I came home for summer, I went for a checkup and my doctor asked if I’d noticed anything weird. I said yes, actually there’s this lump that hasn’t gone away. And then she put me through ultrasound, scans, tests, and a biopsy.
Wow, that’s a lot. At what point did it start feeling serious to you?
Probably when they sat me down and said I needed a biopsy. I thought after all the scans they’d come back fine, but that was when I felt this could actually be something.
During my biopsy, they took some pieces out, and the doctor looked at it under a microscope. Then he went out to grab my family.
He couldn’t confirm it officially, but he said, “I’m pretty sure it’s Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”
That must have been surreal. When did it fully hit you?
Initially it didn’t. The biopsy was on July 3rd. I was supposed to go to beach right after.
I could not stop crying. You can’t control anything.
I was in denial, saying to myself, “This is not happening. No way. No way.”
My mom urged me to go and get my mind off it. If I needed anything, I could come back. So I went and didn’t say anything that weekend. 4th of July is a fun time, I just wanted to relax and have fun.
When I got back, a couple days passed and it really hit me. We were looking for doctors and hospitals and figuring out what to do with school.
I never would’ve guessed this would happen. There’s no family history. I’m the first.
When did you start telling people?
Two weeks later, when we got the official results of the biopsy.
Everyone was back home for the summer, so I met up with my friends individually and said, “I have something to tell you…”
My boyfriend helped me tell some friends who he was closer to. It helped that we could divide it that way, so I didn’t have to tell the story over and over again.
It was hard. The first few times I could barely get the words out. But it helped to talk about it.
How did your friends react?
All my girlfriends cried and gave me big hugs.
The guys were different. Some were quiet and had to walk away to process the news. Some tried to make me laugh.
It was interesting for me to see the wide range of reactions.
For me, sometimes I let myself feel things and sometimes I distract myself. There’s no right way to react, you just do it.
When did you start treatment?
Once my hair started falling out, that was... a constant reminder that you’re not normal.
I started on August 18th. Everytime I go, I get a finger stick (some people draw blood) to check levels to make sure I was healthy enough to get treatment. Then I get assigned a room. It’s individual, so we’re not in one big room all together.
I didn’t get a port because I didn’t want something on me the whole time. So I’m on IV the whole time.
You take Benadryl as pre-meds so you don’t get an allergic reaction and nausea, then 3-4 bags of the chemo treatment in succession.
How did you feel through this process?
The first one was a really big change emotionally because of the hormones. I could not stop crying. You can’t control anything.
There are other symptoms, too. You have to get a shot the next day because you have to keep the immune system up. And that gives you flu symptoms: body aches and a runny nose.
One thing I didn’t expect was that it changes your taste buds. So there are a lot of things you can’t taste or don’t taste good. I noticed oranges and other citrus tasted metallic.
I started eating with a lot of seasoning on my food so I could taste it.
Were there visible changes too?
With the first treatment, nothing big happened. I lost color and looked pale.
After the second treatment, I started shedding. I noticed all these little pieces falling every time I moved or run my fingers through my hair. It was really alarming, but when I looked in the mirror, there was no bald spots at that point.
Towards the third, fourth, and fifth treatments, it was really noticeable. I had really thick hair and really noticed it when I pulled it into a ponytail.
By the fifth treatment, my ponytail had shrunk to a third of its normal size. My part was really wide, and my hair was sparse.
That was when we learned about Root Touch Up and ordered it. It was perfect timing because my boyfriend was coming home from college the weekend we got it. It looked like my hair again!
I’m so glad it helped! How exactly did you use the Root Touch Up?
I just separated my hair and put it all over the spots where you could see my scalp a lot. It covered it a lot. Then I flipped pieces of hair over it so people would see the color underneath.
How did you feel when you first used it? Was there a big reveal like on a makeover show?
Pretty much! My mom had to get the back. I let her do everything that I couldn’t see, and we looked in the mirror together.
We both got tears in our eyes.
It felt normal. I hadn’t felt that way in a long time. And it all happened in a matter of minutes.
Did other people act differently after you used it?
Yeah! My friends had seen my hair thinning. Obviously, no one was going to tell me it looks bad, but when I put the Root Touch Up on, they would say things like, “Wow! It looks so good!”
It’s like I have regular hair again. It was like a miracle. I never would’ve expected it to work like this.
And it also felt good because it’s hard for my friends to see me not looking like normal. It was really nice to help them feel better, too.
That’s really thoughtful to think about their feelings too. What was the hardest part of this process?
It’s like I have regular hair again. It was like a miracle.
One was my fear of needles. It’s the only way for them to get anything into your system, so I had to deal with it. That was really hard, but that’s the stuff you can walk away from after each appointment.
Once my hair started falling out, that was really hard. Your hair is a constant reminder that you’re not normal. You don’t feel like yourself anymore.
It’s definitely hard to not feel like yourself and not look like yourself either.
What kept you positive?
When I was really down on myself and my situation, I got pneumonia and had to be hospitalized for a week.
I was in the cancer patient section during that week, and I started looking around and seeing what others were dealing with.
I could see the light at end of the tunnel. Meanwhile, I was meeting others who were so positive even though they had no idea when they were ever getting out or how it was going to work out.
It was a big reality check.
How did your friends and family help?
Everybody offered to come to treatment with me. And whenever I didn’t feel well, my family was making all the food I wanted. Lots of soup!
Everybody was visiting and my boyfriend was always calling. They were my support system.
Do you have any advice for other people going through the same thing?
Definitely try and stay positive. If you stay positive, good things are going to come. It’ll get better.
It’s hard but you just have to try. Do what makes you happy and look to the future.
Thanks so much for sharing your story, Taylor. We wish you a bright, happy future!
Madison Reed exists to give women everywhere healthier options for coloring hair, keeping color fresh for longer, and caring for color-treated hair. Your health is important, and you deserve beauty products that protect it.
Build your Hair Profile or call the Color Crew, our team of certified colorists and stylists, at 1.888.550.9586 for a free professional consultation. At Madison Reed, we love to help people look and feel their very best!