28 Years Ago Today, I Developed Symptoms of Cancer.
It was a Thursday, that week we were off school for state-wide in-service, the night before I'd played Star Wars with my first cousin in his unfinished basement, it was his birthday and he had just turned 5 and I was 7. It was 1980, well before many of you were alive. I woke up to watch Captain Kangaroo, one of Canada's greatest exports, and was unable to move my legs, for you see, my femurs had swollen from the cancer in my bone marrow and locked my hips up. We traveled to Pierre SD where we discovered my White Blood Cell count was very, very high and I wouldn't stop bleeding. I spent the night in the hospital there, but they didn't know what I had. By Friday morning I could get up, shuffle around and make it to the bathroom. Then we went to Sioux Falls South Dakota, they diagnosed me and gave me six weeks to live. Somehow they got an IV in my right hand, I remember fighting off many doctors and nurses. My Grandmother's brother was a top Doctor at Rush Memorial in Chicago and he got me referred to the Mayo Clinic, one of the best medical centers on the planet. There they saved my life, my doctors were some of the primary specialists in juvenile oncology and they kept me alive. I still have the book they gave us, Leukemia and You, one of the best written and informative books I've seen to describe how cancer and chemotherapy work, I keep it beside my desk. First I was told I wouldn't make it to my birthday in February 1981, then I was told I had 5 years tops, I'm a part of the first cohort the CDC and NCI tracked from 1976 to 1982, I think my tracking number is like 8232. I testified via video tape to the Senate for funding cancer research in 1985. I lost my hair (it came back thick and curly), I lost the ability to have children and every day I live in pain from the treatments and radiation. The cancer never goes away, we just beat it back enough that my body shuts it down if it creeps back up. I'm sure there are blasts floating around doing bad things in my body... White blood cells are crazy little guys, more like amebas, autonomous and able to leave the blood vessels and hunt. I have an electron microscope photo of a WBC in attack mode going after a germ. At the juvenile oncology floor at the Mayo Clinic (Floor 12 East it was), there was a play room and on the bulletin board kids put up their pictures, the survivors would update. When I went in 1991 and put my graduation photo up I wept. There were no other photos of survivors who were older than about 12-13. It's like being the survivor of an elite unit in war and no one else made it out alive. 28 years now, and I don't regret a thing. Next time you see a sickly kid with that chemo/radiation skin and maybe a bald head don't pity them, walk up to them and say, "I know someone who has made it for 28 years with cancer. You can do it too!"