November 12, 2017. Tick. Tick. Tick. I’m laying in a cold, white hospital room listening to the clock click off seconds of my life. Boom! The door crashes open. A slew of doctors barge in like they’ll win a prize for the most docs to fill up a room. Someone starts rambling in medical language I don’t understand, “Tumor…carotid…biopsy…critical…” I hear words but nothing really registers. I look over at my parents. Their faces are frozen. Tears on their cheeks.
Tick. Tick. Ti….. Time stands still.
Suddenly, all the air is sucked out of the room and darkness creeps in. I’m drowning, staring down death. This, this right here, is the moment I give it the middle finger.
“Nope, not me. Not today.”
I have Stage 2 Burkitt’s Lymphoma. Eventually I learn that Burkitt’s is super rare and it’s the fastest growing cancer known to modern medicine. Burkitt’s tumors double in size every twenty-five hours. The tumor in my head is as big as a baseball and it’s wrapped around my vocal cords and carotid artery. I am days, maybe hours from a massive stroke. But I’m fifteen years old and stubborn. I decide that nothing, especially not a stupid tumor, is going to determine my fate for me. After the air rushes back into the room, I set my jaw and tell my parents, “Let’s kick its a**, and then write a sweet college essay.”
It’s time for that essay. So here goes…
I have to be strong so the people who love me won’t worry about my survival. There is no time to feel sorry for myself. It is time to step up, time to fight the battle. I fight hard, not only because it is my only option, but also because I believe to my core that my attitude will dictate the results. A good attitude can get you a long way in life, and I want to give myself the best chance possible to beat this monster and move on. I won’t let it define me.
It’s an epic battle; no lie. The early moments are critical. The tumor invaded my nasal cavity so there’s no option to remove it. My only shot is an aggressive chemotherapy regimen – drugs so toxic, my nurses wear Hazmat suits and eye protection to handle it. They pump that cocktail straight into my heart, and into the spinal fluid which surrounds my brain. I fight through searing bone pain, massive spinal tap headaches, non- stop vomiting, and countless sleepless nights. I survive twelve surgeries, significant weight loss, and total hair loss. I am on the edge of death. My life is about fighting for life, not actually living it.
February 12, 2018. I watch the final drops of Cytarabine drip through my IV. My nurse unhooks me. My mom and dad finish packing up all my stuff. My friends and family start to fill up the entire nurses’ station, like they’ll win a prize for the most love to fill up a room, waiting for that moment when I ring the survivor bell.
One ring for the past.
One ring for victory. One ring for the future.
I learn that there is always a positive side and things could always be worse. I am in the hospital for three solid months, but other kids are there for years. Some kids lose their legs, their vision, or their ability to walk or speak. Some kids never go home. They will never get the chance to write a college essay. Don’t stress over the little things because in the grand scheme of life, their significance is minor. Cherish the life you have now and don’t put anything off. Always give one-hundred percent because death waits for all of us. It’ll have to keep waiting for me.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
Time for the next battle. The next victory.