Mom, I See Two of You

October 20, 2014

Life was good. I was your average 8 year old boy looking forward to summer so I could ride my bike and hang out with my friends, but then something changed. I started throwing up. At first, it was every couple of days, and then daily. I remember going to countless doctors’ appointments and test after test. I remember wishing I would just quit getting sick. Summer was coming, and I had stuff to do!
Then there was the night things took a turn. “Mom, I see two of you.” I saw the fear in my mom’s eyes. I said it with a small laugh, because it was so weird. My mom just stared at me. At the time, I couldn’t quite read the look on her face. Panic, maybe.
I went back to the doctor. The doctor said my stomach biopsy came back normal, but now I was suffering from headaches, like thirty people yelling at me with every whisper, the pain unbearable. My mom spoke of my new symptoms to my doctor and he said we should make an appointment with a neurologist at Mary Bridge. He told her, “If you cannot get in, go to the Emergency Room in Tacoma.” My mom called and was told I wouldn’t get in until September. I had already lost a significant amount of weight, and was thin to begin with. The next morning my mom and grandma made the trip with me from my home in Cosmopolis to the ER in Tacoma. I remember stopping and throwing up on the way, which had become a routine the past two months. Looking back, I knew how scared my family was.
Within an hour of getting to the hospital, the doctors came in with the results of my tests. I remember lying there. My head hurt so badly and I kept my eyes closed, as even the smallest bit of light was excruciating. “We did find a tumor,” the doctor said. My mom collapsed in a puddle of tears.
My diagnosis was medulloblastoma, an aggressive form of childhood brain cancer. I was immediately admitted to the PICU at Mary Bridge and scheduled for brain surgery the next day. The doctors and nurses were great about telling us what to expect after surgery and my first words when coming to were “hey, my neck isn’t even sore!” That is me, a silver lining type of kid. Little did I know at that time, the pain medication would soon wear off. Wow, was my neck sore! My head was in a bandage and I had a tube draining the fluid from my brain. I was angry that I was even there in that hospital bed and felt horrible, like I no longer had any control over my mind and body.
Radiation and chemotherapy were next on my list of things to do– not what I had anticipated for the summer vacation I had so much looked forward to and rightfully earned! I received radiation at UW Medical Center, full cranial and full spinal on my 41 pound body. I remember them telling me I wouldn’t be sick the first couple of treatments, but after the very first, I was unable to even lift my head off my pillow.
I didn’t think it was possible for me to be any sicker than I was before diagnosis. Wow, was I wrong! Radiation smelled liked rotten eggs. They would lay me face down on the table with my
head in a hard mesh mask. I felt trapped, and I wanted to leap from the bed and run. The smell was so horrible I couldn’t get through the treatment without throwing up, so they began sedating me. I would awake with a waffle weave imprint on my face from the mask. I wanted to close my eyes and not wake up.
I had a feeding tube placed, as I was losing so much weight they had concerns I would not make it through the treatment. The feeding tube did help, but I hated it. I felt like people were staring at me. My pale blonde hair had fallen out in chunks and I was a strange shade of gray. I had a tube across my cheek and through my nose. I was no longer able to maintain my balance and was either carried like a toddler or pushed in a wheelchair. I no longer wanted to be in public from the continual stares. Looks of sympathy un-noticed. This is cancer.
Next, I began chemotherapy at Mary Bridge. The first round I was admitted to the hospital to receive chemo through the night; I called this “big shot chemotherapy” which was administered to me overnight instead of in a one-time dose. They woke me every hour to urinate because there were concerns of the chemo sitting in my bladder. The following two weeks we would make the trip to Tacoma for my “small dose” chemo. Then I would get a week “off”. To be sick!
48 weeks in all.
I suffer from many long term effects from my battle. I have permanent hearing loss in both ears, cataracts in both eyes, seizures, short-term memory loss, cognitive impairments, severely short stature and recently it has been determined that I am not producing any growth hormone and will require daily injections for life.
All things said, I know I am one of the lucky ones. I am a cancer warrior and will continue to fight for those who no longer can. That is what keeps me going. Even writing this is incredibly difficult for me, because as I said, I am a silver lining type of kid, but I know it is important to get these stories out. You do get past it, and cancer will never define me, but it has definitely molded me into who I am today, and this journey has made me a more compassionate person. I am a guy with a big heart with the desire to succeed and help others through my story.
I once wondered if I would win this fight, if I would ever get to see my baby brother grow up, but almost exactly ten years to the day of my diagnosis, I will receive my high school diploma. I have those answers now. This is me, winning the fight against cancer.
Andrew Blumberg