I was in the shower when I found the lump in my breast. It was March 27, 2016; Easter Sunday. As I was getting ready for church and putting on my three month old baby girl’s first Easter dress, I was distracted with the fear that the lump could be something more. All my quick google searches said that breast cancer was typically not painful and my lump was. The next morning, my OBGYN had me come on in before referring me for a mammogram. During the mammogram, the doctor didn’t like what she saw so an x-ray and biopsy followed. Within a week, I got the call with good news- no breast cancer. My lymph node was just inflamed and would need to be removed within a year or so, but nothing pressing at the moment.

It was still early spring in Kentucky, so that meant it could snow one day and be 75 degrees the next. I was sick, but that wasn’t uncommon given the weather. I had a horrible cough that just wouldn’t go away. I was still itching all over and to my amazement, I lost my baby weight practically overnight. This was my first baby, so I wasn’t sure what was normal and what wasn’t. I was exhausted, but what mother of a newborn isn’t? I went to the doctor several times with a bronchitis diagnosis every time and a new round of antibiotics. It didn’t seem to work. Then, the chest pain started. For several days, it hurt to breathe and it got to the point that sitting up and rolling over was uncomfortable if not impossible.

April 17, 2016. I woke up to hear my baby crying in her bassinet. As I rolled over to pick her up, there was a loud pop in my chest and instantly I was fighting for air. I texted my husband who was in the kitchen and told him that something was wrong. I thought I was dying. Still in my pajamas, my husband rushed me to the Emergency room and I was taken straight back. The x-rays showed that the loud pop was my lung collapsing and the other was on its way. There was so much fluid in my chest that the doctors couldn’t even see my lungs on the CT scan . It was assumed that I had pneumonia but the doctor needed to get the fluid off before they could know for sure.

A thoracentesis was scheduled for the next morning and the doctor assured me that I would “feel like a brand new woman” and could breathe again. As bad as I hated the thought of a gigantic needle going through my ribs and sucking out the fluid, I was looking forward to taking a deep breath. The doctor pulled off over 1200 cc’s (or a liter) of fluid from in and around my lungs. As he kept filling bag, after bag, he told me that someone my size shouldn’t have that much fluid. I knew something wasn’t right. Before he finished, he said that there was about 500-600 more cc’s in there, and he couldn’t get to it without surgery so he bandaged me up. When I sat up on the table, I immediately felt a pain like I have never felt and I collapsed back onto the metal table. The next thing I remember was being in my hospital room. Surgery was scheduled for the next morning. I was told that sometimes, fluid can solidify in the chest and take on the consistency of an orange peel. I went into surgery with the game plan that we would remove the gunk, hit me with some serious antibiotics, and send me home to my baby girl.

When I woke up in the recovery area after surgery, my surgeon was standing over me. He said, “Danielle… your surgery went fine, you are doing great… but… you have cancer. I have already told your family and your husband would like to see you now” and he disappeared behind the curtain. Still under the effect of anesthesia, I wasn’t sure if it was a dream. I am not sure how much time lapsed before I saw Travis step around the corner, but it felt like a lifetime. Was this real life? When I saw his tear stained eyes, I knew… this was no dream.

It turns out that the fluid was cancer. It had started in the lymph nodes and had moved to my chest wall and around my lungs. I spent 11 days in the hospital, in and out of ICU and was given the diagnosis of stage 2 Hodgkins Lymphoma. The lymph node that was tested during my mammogram had actually been cancer, but we only had it tested for breast cancer, not blood cancer. I received my first round of ABVD (red devil) chemo before being released. Over the next 6 months, I would undergo 12 chemo treatments before receiving the news that the cancer was gone on September 30, 2016.

During my hospital stay, I was told that there were support groups for women, but they were for breast cancer patients. I was invited to attend but was warned that I wouldn’t have much in common with them. I felt so alone. It was during that time, I received a Compassion Bag from Altar’d State in Lexington KY. That was when my cancer journey turned around.

The CTC community was such a blessing to me. I had support. Kristianne was an angel in disguise and took me under her wing. Since becoming a part of the CTC family, I have been given the opportunity to distribute bags to other women, speak at conferences, and be a blessing to others by helping in any way I could. I have mentored new cancer patients and offered any advice or just an ear when needed. Without CTC, I know that my cancer journey would have been very different. I tell people when asked, that it’s not just a bag, but it’s so much more. It’s support. It’s love. It’s ministry. It’s the feeling that you are not alone and will never be forgotten.

I love everything about Compassion that Compels, but the thing I think I love most is that they support women fighting ALL types of cancer. It doesn’t matter what color of ribbon you represent, you are welcome here. I love Kristianne’s words and the basis upon what her ministry is about…. once you hear that one word, you are instantly an “Overcomer”.

Danielle Stepp, her husband and Princess Macy reside in Lexington. Her creative pursuits include writing, designing and bringing joy to everyone around her.