Cancer Story

Back to School

Continuing my experiences from the post on 9/14, I’ve now finished my treatment and was returning back to school. At this point, I was in 4th grade and didn’t really think much of how my friends would react to my return. However there was the feeling of excitement and anxiety like it was the first day of school. I remember showing up to class right after lunch and there was my classmates welcoming me back. Since I was still on treatment, I was only allowed to stay at school for part of the day and then resume the rest of my schooling at home. On that first day, I was quickly reminded how important it was to be part of school and having friends nearby. Initially it was showing them what I’d been through including procedures, hospital stays, and showing some x-rays that I brought with me. The proof was all there and at my age I was proud to show off what I’d been through. However, over time I started to be ashamed of sharing my treatment experiences because I could tell that some were freaked out. To put some perspective here, everyone was around 8 to 9 years old so the concept of cancer didn’t really make sense to most at that point. Also I didn’t have any hair at this point so wearing a hat in class was unusual and I could tell folks were wondered why I would be wearing it. Yet I had my good friends there to back me up in case any uncomfortable situation were to arise.  The most uncomfortable parts of being a fourth grader with cancer is having to leave halfway through the day and having to wear a chest protector during any activities outside or during intramural time. I was required to wear a chest protector to safeguard my catheter because I was still having my blood drawn and was receiving small amounts of chemo each week. Throwing on the chest protector was interesting especially when I had to hide around a corner to put it on and how it felt under my shirt. The chest protector was bulky and I could tell that others knew I was wearing one. Despite my annoying protective gear issues, I had a gym teacher who understood my situation and always found ways to involve me no matter what. For example, if we played floor hockey I was always the goalie since I was already wearing the chest protector. If we played kickball, I was the catcher which prevented a line drive from hitting my chest. As time went on, I would be allowed back for a full day of school and felt that my life was resuming back to normal.  From time to time there would be a couple of reminders that I was still different, especially when folks I didn’t know would take my hat off my head and notice I didn’t have any hair. This made me more self-conscious of my looks and made me more aware of anyone attempting to pull my hat again. Eventually, my medications would wear down and my hair started to grow back. I was about to finish fifth grade and was looking forward to middle school as my next challenge. The exciting part was that my catheter would come out that summer which meant no more chest protector. Thank god! My doctors indicated my blood results were looking good and at the moment I was in the clear. For the next few years, I would continue to live a healthy life that included an occasional office visit in case anything were to come back.

Cancer Story

First Hospital Stay (of Many)

Continuing from the earlier post on August 10th, here is where my treatment begins and I’m faced with side effects of the chemotherapy. Following my diagnosis, I was transported to the nearest hospital which was in New Rochelle to begin treatment. It’s interesting but when I try to remember these memories, it’s hard for my mind to find them. However, what I do remember is lying in a hospital bed with tubes going in and out of me. The tubes were funneling into my chest where a port-a-cath had been implanted. For those folks who don’t know what a port-a-cath is, it’s a tube that runs out of a small incision in your chest to the main vein underneath your skin. They insert this for comfort purposes; fewer needle pricks. The situation was very surreal and not something that I knew how to react to. Luckily a lot of my family was there to support me as I began this treatment journey. I remember them asking me how I was feeling and just having an automated “OK” response to everything even though I was feeling uneasy about what laid ahead. My uncle was the last one to arrive and I’d always get excited whenever he was around. As a kid, we would go down to my uncle’s house in New Jersey and I’d remember having so much fun with them. This time, however, my uncle looked concerned as he stood at the head of my bed but trying not to show it.  Then the oncologist came into the room greeting everyone as she slowly walked up to my bed side to check my vitals. After finishing, she explained to everyone the road ahead for me which consisted of a few heavy rounds of chemotherapy and if all went well, moving into remission. As the doctor explained this, various drugs and procedures were being mentioned that I never heard of. One of the procedures which scared me the most was the mention of “spinal taps” which reminded me of the bone marrow procedure. As we’re listening, most of us were nodding our heads but none of us knew how Chemotherapy worked. Mainly, Chemotherapy is a combination of different chemo drugs that are delivered at scheduled intervals. We then learned that I was already given my first dosage of chemo to kick off my treatment. The big question I used to get asked all the time was “Do you feel it (chemo)?” And to be honest, you don’t really feel anything, immediately. I’d say the first time I felt chemotherapy’s effects was when I attempted to run down our walkway in the backyard. Being athletic and a fast runner as a kid, I was always proud of my speed. Now it was like starting an old car with bad brakes. My legs struggled to get going and when I tried slowing down, that didn’t seem to work out either. I nearly crashed into the garbage cans on the side of my house which saved me from hitting the ground. It was almost like I had no control of my body. The next side effect would be my hair loss. This started probably two to three weeks later after I noticed my hair on my pillow or in the shower; which freaked me out. Then by the second or third round of chemo, that’s where I started having numerous muscle aches, soreness all over and nausea. By this point, my body preferred sitting or lying down than playing outside with friends. Probably the toughest for me was nausea. I hardly noticed it initially but by this point, nausea was happening all the time forcing me not to eat and to throw up often. But I would recover when they put me on steroids which caused me to blow up with water weight and more importantly eat a lot. Eventually, I would leave the hospital and continue my treatment at home where I slowly adjusted back to normal. However, my next big challenge would be returning to school and friends after being away for more than a month! Imagine yourself in this situation and how you would react especially now coming back with no hair and dealing with cancer and resuming school again. To be continued….

Cancer Story

Diagnosis Day

I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was eight years old and wasn’t sure what was wrong with me but knew it was something. Only weighing 72 pounds, pale to almost ghostly looking, hardly eating and getting aches in my legs whenever I moved them. I’d tell myself maybe it’s a bad flu, what’s worse than that? At my age, the idea of a fatal disease (like cancer) didn’t come to mind. My parents noticed the issue too, my father decided to arrange an office visit with our family doctor. After evaluating me, my doctor decided to get blood work done right away. I was then told to go wait in the waiting room while my parents were taken into a separate room with the doctor. Following the meeting, I overheard my parents being told to go see another doctor and to head there immediately. My parents concerned that I might be asked to draw blood again decided to give me a break in between and to get me some food. We finally reached the next doctor and another dreadful round of blood work was drawn. Our doctor came into the examination room with my blood results in her hand then mentioning she needed to perform one more test called a bone marrow pull. It sounded scary especially when “bone” was in the name. None of us knew what was in store for me but all I remember was that it was the most painful experience ever. Think of injection that goes further than skin level and is actually pinching your bone. Yea exactly. It was painful as hell and for some reason, it seemed like it took forever. Once it was done, I was really hoping this day would end. In the waiting room again, my parents were in the other room talking with the doctor. They came out and I could tell that it wasn’t good especially seeing my mom’s face and my father consoling her. Since I didn’t know what cancer was I didn’t know how to react when I was told that was what I had. In the days following I was given more explanation, as well as the name of cancer I had; Leukemia. Treatment began a week later and I got to spend some quality time in the hospital. Not sure what to expect, I went into treatment with optimism and hope that I would get through this; no matter what. More details to come on my treatment and my experience through it all.