My Life Because of Cancer

October 20, 2010

As an athletic boy of 11 years old, cancer is the last thing on your mind. That is until you hear the last thing you ever expected to hear, “You have cancer”. I remember lying in the hospital room late on the night of October 17, 2003, after completing an MRI. It was around 11 o’clock when my doctor entered my room giving my parents and me the news that would instantly change our lives forever. I had a type of bone cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma. Most kids and even adults tend to associate the word “cancer” with the word “death”, so as you can imagine I was scared. I was scared to have to leave my family. I was scared to leave my friends. I was scared that I would be facing enormous amounts of pain. And the worst part was, everything was out of my control. Prior to all of this, the doctors had misdiagnosed me multiple times. Six months later when they finally had me lay through an hour and half long, loud, obnoxious MRI, the tumor was the size of a cantaloupe making my left pelvis its home.
The next year would end up being the most critical year of the whole process of saving my life. I started out with 5 different types of chemotherapy. Every third week when I had to go in for a new dose of chemo, it became harder and harder on my body. I vomited more than I ever thought was possible as the so called “medication” seemed to slowly kill my body from the inside, out. It got to the point I just flat-out refused to eat or drink anything as long as I was on hospital property. Certain restaurants’ commercials on television would make me extremely sick, so every time one would come on my family would simultaneously dive for the remote to change the channel. It was a combination of starving myself and vomiting that made me, previously a 5’8” 110 lbs. boy, become a 5’8” 77 lbs. boy. Looking back at pictures, I can’t believe that I ever looked so thin and frail. I lost all my hair and, being as young as I was, was embarrassed to go out in public without a hat. Another side affect from the chemo was that it didn’t just kill cancer cells, but my blood cells as well. This meant I couldn’t go out in public for about two weeks after each round of chemo, unless I wanted to risk catching an illness and not be able to fight if off. This caused me to miss a couple years of school. Although I did stay caught up at home, I missed out socializing with all of my friends making us start to grow apart. That set me behind a lot for the later high school years.
In the midst of my chemotherapy, I had to have radiation. I thought it was going to be easy considering I made it through all but the last day of the one minute treatments. It was that last day though that made me think otherwise. The night of my last treatment I quickly found out that I could no longer sit due to the horrific sunburn-like burn that the radiation had given me. Every time something would touch the radiated skin I would yell out from the intensity of the pain. Luckily though, that was temporary. After a month of radiation I was down to just chemo again.
While chemotherapy and radiation killed most of the cancer cells, I had to have part of my pelvis removed and replaced with a cadaver bone in order to help completely remove all the cells. After that surgery, I all but lost the function in my left leg. Strike one. I don’t know how many people realize this but only being able to move one leg made it pretty much impossible to walk. In order to try and give me the use of my left leg back, my orthopedic surgeon put a cement spacer in my pelvis due to a deep rooted infection. It got a surgical infection. Strike two. They then, went in to rid my body of the infection. I still had no use of my left leg. Strike three. After two and a half years of living life in a wheelchair, being held back by essentially the “dead weight” of my leg, my surgeons and I realized I had to have it amputated in order to live life to the fullest. It took me a few months to get my parents on board with the idea though. Aside from that October in 2003, the biggest life changing day I have had was December 13, 2006. That was the day that I underwent a 5 hour surgery. I left my school in the middle of freshman year with 4 limbs and returned the last part of freshman year with less than four. I had a hemi-pelvectomy amputation, meaning I have no left leg at all. Going back to school after that scared me to death. Would everyone accept me? Would anyone discriminate? What would my friends say? Would they stare? I was blessed to be at a school I was in because I know the transition wouldn’t have been as easy for me without all the people who my life was surrounded with those four years. For that I will forever be grateful.
After over 70 surgeries, some major and some minor, I have learned the hard way that when one door closes another door opens. I was forced to give up able-bodied sports, but am now playing on a nationally ranked wheelchair basketball team. Fighting my way through cancer has helped me open my eyes to the world around me. I don’t take life for granted anymore and have become more mature and responsible from having to play with the hand I was dealt. I can sometimes get carried away and let the child inside me make an appearance, but I don’t really care because I had to have adult qualities during my childhood. Now and then people stare, but I don’t care anymore. I actually wish they would just come up and ask me about it. I respect little kids for that reason. They are never afraid to ask. It is always the adult that comes in, swoops them up, ad whisks them away whenever they bring up the subject in front of me. I love who I am, and if I could go back and change my life, I would pass up the opportunity to do so. I try to live every day like it is my last. I truly enjoy life and all that it has to offer. I strive to do my part in raising cancer awareness. I have done a lot of public speaking on the issue and made lifelong friends because of everything that has happened to me. I have also been lucky enough to help comfort and inform other amputees and their families prepare for the surgery.
Cancer will forever be a big part of my life. I realize that I am one of the lucky ones. I have made numerous friends that went through the same battles that I did and weren’t as fortunate as me. The general public doesn’t realize exactly how many people cancer affects every day. And no one, not even my family or the oncologists of this world know what it is like to battle something so strong, fast, and ruthless as cancer unless they themselves were the ones standing at the front of the battle line, laying in that lonely, cold, scary, hospital bed.
Austan Pierce