Surviving Cancer

    Cancer is a word no parent wants to hear. Especially when it's about their child. My parents heard the cancer from a doctor. It was December 1, 1996 when I met the person who made a big impact in my life. You see, on that day, I had found out I had cancer, I was eleven years old. Of course, being so young I didn't understand what cancer was or what the word oncology meant. To those of you who don't know what the word oncology means, it's just the medical word for cancer. The doctors never said cancer or oncology to me. All I knew is I was sick and had to stay in the hospital. The woman I met who made the impact on my life was Dr. Vonda Crouse. She saved my life and for that I will be forever grateful to her. She was my doctor from the day I was diagnosed to the day I was officially in remission.

    She wasn't the only one who made an impact in my life. The cancer also made an impact on my life. In school, I played sports and I was in track. I was a good runner too. One day, during track practice; I fell down and it felt like I pulled a muscle or something in my left leg. I didn't think anything of it and nor did my parents. About a day later my knee swelled up about five times the normal size. That's when my mom took me to the doctor. They didn't take x-rays or anything, they just said it was a pulled muscle and to keep ice on it and it'll go down in a few days. So that's what we did. A week went by and it didn't go down and it started to get real painful. So painful I could hardly walk on it. When my mom realized something was really wrong she took me to the hospital. The first thing they did was take x-rays. As soon as the x-rays were developed the doctor came out and gave them to my mom and told her to take them and me to the oncology department in children's hospital. I can still remember what the x-ray looked like. My femur, or thigh bone wasn't broken, but there was a chunk missing because the cancer was putting so much pressure it literally exploded out of the bone. You could see the chunks of bone scattered around the x-ray. The next morning, my mom took my to the children's hospital. They ran a million tests on me and after they were all finished they talked to my mom and I and told us I had osteosarcoma. Let me break that down for you. Osteosarcoma means your bones. That's what I had, bone cancer. Later that night around eight-thirty they admitted me.

    At first I didn't like the hospital because I was there all week and only got to go home on the weekends. The first month, on the other hand, I was there for the whole month. My doctor was nice, she actually let me go home for Christmas, even though I was supposed to stay in the hospital. I didn't get to go home for my birthday, which is on December 31. But all the nurses put money together and bought my a huge cake. It was really big. We were eating on that cake for about 2 weeks it was so big. Shortly after I was admitted though they had started chemotherapy on me. I'm not sure what chemotherapy means, but I can tell you that it's just medicine that was going to make me better. Along with it making me better it made me extremely sick. Everything I ate or drank came back up within five minutes. It also made my hair fall out. A lot people think the cancer itself is what makes your hair fall out, but it's not. It's the chemotherapy that makes it fall out. When I say my hair fell out I mean ALL of it. My eyelashes fell out, my eyebrows, and the hair on my arms and legs as well. For some reason my hair loss was really hard on my family. I still don't know why. I mean I was bald when I was born.

    I can still remember each date I had some sort of surgery. On January 3, 1997 they did a biopsy on my leg. What that means is they cut my leg open to see out much damage was actually done when the cancer broke though my bone. What they found wigged them out because they say cancer grows up. Well my cancer started four inches above my knee and grew down. The doctors thought it was strange. Earlier I said the cancer was putting so much pressure it literally exploded out of the bone. Well, that's why, it got down to where my knee was at the joint and had nowhere to go but out. After they were finished with that they inserted a broviac in my body. Yes another word no one knows. A broviac is a permanent IV. I'll try my best to describe it for you. It looked liked an upside down Y. The long part was in a vein and the two parts were on the outside of my body under my left breast. Sounds a little bit scary, but believe me it wasn't. It sure beat the hell out of getting poked on my hand everyday to put an IV in. All that week I had x-rays and MRIs done so they could find out if they could save my leg or not. All the tests came back and they weren't able to save my leg because when the cancer came out of the bone it attached to my muscles and everything else that was in the path. It made me really mad when I found out. Dr. Crouse gave my parents two choices: Amputate my leg (cut it off) or let me die. Only a cold - hearted parent would say, "let my child die." That obviously wasn't my parents since I'm here today writing this. Even though I was very pissed off at my parents for choosing this for me I'm happy they did.

    The decision was made. On February 14, 1997 was when my surgery was to do the operation to remove my leg. Yes, It wasn't the most happy Valentines Day I've had. One of the nurses gave me magic markers and I drew on my leg. On my right foot I wrote, "WRONG LEG!" On my left foot I wrote, "RIGHT LEG!" It made all the nurses laugh. They thought It was so cute. They gave me something that knocked me out so they put an epidural in my back. Most of you who have heard the word epidural know it's something they give a woman when she's on labor to numb her lower body. That's why they did it to me. Seven in the morning was when I went into surgery. It was only supposed to be a five and a half hour surgery. It ended up being almost eleven hours. My family were very worried because the doctor told them it was going to take about five and a half hours. After my surgery was over they took my into the recovery room. Now I don't remember anything in the recovery room, but my mom filled me in. Apparently my epidural had wore off. That's a BAD THING! My mom told me when I woke up I was screaming so loud that I nearly gave everyone in the recovery room a heart attack. My mom said she started yelling at them to help me and she was crying because I was in so much pain. Then one of the nurses gave me something that knocked me out within seconds. Like I said I don't remember this happening. I guess that's a good thing. All I remember is I woke up in the Intensive Care or ICU. I hated it in there. The nurses never brought us our food and when they did it was cold and I didn't even want to eat it. When I got moved back into the normal rooms I asked for Froot Loops. That's all I wanted was Froot Loops and I remember this because it's funny. I was sitting on my bed eating them and the next thing I know is I'm opening my eyes and I have milk and Froot Loops all over me. I had fallen asleep while I was eating. The cool thing about having my leg amputated is I got to keep my knee cap. I have it in a little jar.

    The next surgery I had was around April I believe. My broviac had gotten infected some how. When that happen I got a fever. This wasn't a 98 degree fever. My temperature went up to 109 degrees. Here's a little medical information for you guys. People can die when their temperature gets up that high. I felt like I was on fire. The nurses kept putting blankets on me and I kept taking them off. I wasn't cold I was hot. They found out right away what was wrong. This was so bad because my broviac went into my blood and if the infection had gotten any worse I would died. This is something else I only remember bits and pieces of, but my mom filled me in on this as well. I don't remember much because I was drifting in and out of consciousness. When I would pass out my heart rate dropped. This has to be the worst part of my whole ordeal. I didn't almost die when I had my leg amputated. A little infection almost killed me. I'll tell you why, because the chemotherapy kills your immune system and that's what kills off infection in your body. Since I basically had no immune system what so ever any little infection or a simple cold could have killed me. That infection in my broviac almost killed me. The second the doctors figured out where the infection was I was rushed into surgery and had my broviac removed. Within a few hours of antibiotics and that broviac out of my body my temperature went down. About a week later I went back into surgery to have a metaport put in. This is the same thing as a broviac but it's under the skin and because it's under the skin there's less chance of infection. From then everything was just fine.

    All the doctors in the oncology field tell you to not get attached to other families. Sounds kind of mean I know, but they say that because people die from cancer. My mom and I didn't listen. We made a ton of friends. There were four other kids in the hospital the same time I was and we all had osteosarcoma and we all had it in the left leg. Well, one boy had it in his right leg, but the two girls and the other boy had it in their left leg. Their names are Robyn, Rehannion, Sam, and Brent. Robyn and I got diagnosed about 3 days apart. She was my best friend in the hospital, they would always room us together. Sam I met about two months into my treatment. His leg was able to be saved. He had a metal rod in leg and about a month of having that in his leg he said screw it and had his amputated. He chose this because he couldn't bend his leg. I would of made the same choice. Rehannion was an older girl, she was 18. Her cancer started at the knee and went all the way up to her hip. Her cancer was so far that it had went into her lungs and other parts of her body. She didn't make it. Brent was the little rebel. Always had a water gun going off on the nurses. His cancer was the same as Rehannions. The doctors actually had it under control. He got a cold and died. This might sound a bit cruel, but I blamed his mom for the longest time. You see all of us were isolated from the world. We couldn't get sick, therefore we had to stay at home, inside away from everyone and everything that could be infected with something. Brent's mom never kept him inside. She let him go outside and play, she took him to the mall, and to the movies, everywhere he wanted to go. He got sick and it just kept getting worse and worse. In the end he didn't make it.

    That year of my life was filled with sadness and happiness. I know some people wouldn't be able to handle something like this and at first I thought I couldn't. I had my family and my friends there with me though it all. They all kept telling me, "Don't worry you'll be just fine!" I believed them all and here I am today, years later and I'm happy with the way my life has been. It may sound strange, but if I could go back in time and choose whether or not to have cancer I would choose to have cancer. I met a lot of different people some I still talk to today and it's great. Robyn and I actually go to the hospital and talk to the kids who have osteosarcoma and are going to have a limb amputated. We take off our legs and we show the kids how it works, how it goes on, and how we walk and manage with it. Some kids look at me and see my tattoos and piercings and they think, "You really had cancer?" I really enjoy talking to these kids about it. I like to let them know that everything is going to be ok and that life does go on even though you only have one leg or one arm. I talk to the parents to and I tell them Brent's story. By me telling them his story I hope they realize and understand how something as small as a simple little cold can take their child's life. For every parent who has listened to me and kept their child inside away from sick people, it's like I saved a life. I want to educate people and I hope this makes an impact on someone's life.