A Whole New Life

October 20, 2018

The moment they told me I had cancer, I knew my life was about to change. I was twelve years old and in the seventh grade. For a couple months, I had really bad back pain, to the point where when I would turn in bed, my back would hurt like crazy. One day my legs started feeling really numb. I just thought my legs had fallen asleep while sitting on the floor. The day after Veteran’s Day started out as a normal Wednesday. As I started to get out of bed, I put my feet on the floor, and tried to stand. I collapsed and had to hold on to the wall on my way to the bathroom. I thought to myself that I was just a little weak, but was unsure why. I took a shower, got dressed, and started to walk down the stairs. I almost collapsed three more times. I finally gave in and called my mom over to help. She helped me walk to the kitchen, and sat me in a chair. She called my dad to come pick me up to take me to the doctor at the local urgent care center.
When we arrived at the doctor’s office, my dad practically had to carry me into the waiting room, because my legs wouldn’t cooperate. They asked me if I would like a wheelchair. I resisted, but my dad insisted. (Little did I know that that would be my best friend for the next nine months). The nurse wheeled me into the X-ray room, and I had my first scans. A few minutes later, they came back with the results. They could see several large masses down my spine, and wanted me to go to Seattle Children’s Hospital as fast as possible to receive an MRI. My dad and I drove to Seattle and got a snack at McDonalds. That was one of the last real meals I would be able to tolerate for a long time.
When we arrived at Children’s, I was wheeled into the emergency room and the doctors came in and talked to me for a little bit. After they determined the information that they needed, they left to schedule an MRI.
I was scared for my life. All I could think about was that I might die. I kept crying about it and told my dad that I was probably going to die. He looked at me and said that I was going to die, but in ninety years. I laughed for a moment, but then went back to crying again.
Once the doctors came back in my room they told me I had an MRI appointment at 10:20 that night. My dad then called my mom at her school where she teaches. She was to pack an overnight bag for all of us. She called my grandparents to come up to watch my two younger brothers, and then she met us at the hospital.
Then my true fear came to reality. The nurses wheeled in a cart full of needles and IV supplies. I began to cry, even more than I was before. For my whole life, I had been terrified of needles, and now they were going to poke me. I was so nervous. They told me it would not hurt too bad, but I was convinced otherwise. They counted to three and jammed the needle into my skin. I screamed in pain and tried to get away, but was unsuccessful. Once they were done, I feel they were happy to not have to deal with a squirming, crying twelve year old.
My dad and I waited a while longer when the doctors finally came back in. They said that a new MRI appointment had opened up for 2:30. The nurses then wheeled me down to the MRI machine. It was huge. They loaded me onto the table, and started up the machine. All I remember about that was it was very loud even with headphones on, and I had to hold very still. It took about forty-five minutes to send me through, and once I was done, I was so relieved. They wheeled me around to the other scans next, including a P.E.T scan, another X-ray, then placed me back in my ER room. When we arrived I was so happy to see my mom there. I cried with tears of joy to see her! She hugged me and told me everything was going to be ok. We sat together for a while until it was time to go get anesthesia for my surgery.
Like every person does after getting anesthesia, I was determined to stay awake for as long as possible. The next thing I remember was peeking out of one eye to see where I was. When I saw the nurse, I quickly closed my eye, but she caught me and said, “I know you’re awake.” She wheeled my bed down to the ICU to meet up with my parents. They were glad to see me again, since I had been away for five hours. Mom said, “They know what is on your spine. It’s a type of cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma.” I was in shock. All the stories I knew about people having cancer ended with death. I began to cry again, which put me to sleep.
I woke up again, but this time it was midnight, and I was starving. My mom heard me and gave me a banana, and some popsicles. I was very surprised that my mom would give me sugar in the middle of the night. But I kept quiet and ate my snacks. In the morning I would have another surgery to get a port-a-cath inserted into my chest that would make it easier to receive my chemotherapy treatments and do blood tests.
I woke up the next afternoon, very confused about why the sun was already in the middle of the sky. My dad came over to me and said I had already had the surgery to get my port. I made a funny comment, “I feel like there’s a tube in my neck,” and clearly, there was. My dad still jokes with me about that now. I guess I hadn’t looked in the mirror.
I was finally moved to the Oncology (cancer) ward, instead of the ICU. Every time that makes me think of I See You, instead of the intensive care unit. This room was way more appealing than the ICU. There were more things to do and not as many nurses watching over me every second through the windows. We waited and waited for someone to arrive to transport me, but instead the head of oncology at Seattle Children’s, Dr. Hawkins, asked if he was allowed to push my wheelchair. He moved me into my new room and helped get us settled.
My favorite part of the room was the TV, where I had a free range of shows to watch. So most of my time at the time at the hospital was spent watching Food Network or the Disney Channel. I also had a lot of time sleeping or playing my favorite video games. They say it is typical for teenagers to basically want to sleep through most of their treatments.
Many months went on, every day different than the last. I ended up not being able to attend the rest of my seventh grade year because of low blood counts and being exposed to germs. I worked with a school district tutor once or twice a week to keep up with my studies. From November to June I ended up with sixteen NG (nasal-gastric) tube replacements for nutrition and medicines, about fifty port accesses for blood tests and chemotherapy, many meltdowns, and two code purples. A code purple is when they ask security to come and help deal with the unruly patient or parent. I was the unruly patient! I had fourteen planned inpatient stays in the hospital, sometimes two nights, sometimes five. Several times we had emergency visits when my temperature would rise too high.
Mom and dad took me to the hospital almost every other day for clinic visits and checks when I didn’t have to stay overnight, for blood transfusions, platelet transfusions, and then six weeks of radiation treatments at the University of Washington. These weeks were particularly exhausting.
During treatment, I needed things to keep my mind focused on the future. I worked on planning a Make-A-Wish trip, and getting ready for a cruise to the Western Mediterranean that had been previously planned with my extended family.
My favorite moment ever in the hospital and one of my favorite moments of my life was what happened in February. While we were staying at the hospital, my mom heard an announcement over the speaker for in-patient families. It said that Starlord and Captain America were in the hospital playroom. I typically wouldn’t leave my hospital room, but I was curious to see what was going on. We ran down to the elevator with my IV pole trailing behind. I was stunned! Right in front of me was Chris Pratt and Chris Evans, my idols from many Marvel movies! They were visiting the hospital thanks to a Superbowl bet. The superheroes were supporting opposing teams for the Superbowl and promised each other to come visit their own local charity hospital, depending on the outcome, Seahawks vs. Patriots. Even though I was shy when we met, they asked me a bunch of questions, told me jokes, and signed my action figure toys. Then, we took a picture together. That photograph has been shown in so many places like the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Popsugar, CNN, MSNBC, the Today Show, and Imgur. That day was one the best days of my entire life that I will never forget.
Near the end of my treatment, I was getting ready to turn thirteen. My parents felt that was an important milestone and wanted to go BIG, especially with what I had been going through. With the help of our local church, friends, and family, we had a birthday carnival. We invited the entire seventh grade class. We had a bounce house, face painting, carnival games, pizza and cupcakes for approximately three hundred people. It was an incredible night!
After I finished treatment, I was able to enjoy my summer like a normal teenage. When I started eighth grade, I rocked the bald head, and it has been two and half years since I finished chemotherapy. I only need to visit the hospital every six months for post-cancer check ups. If you met me now and didn’t see my scars, you might not even know that I’ve had cancer.
Although my days at the hospital and at home were very rough, it changed my life for the better. There were many downfalls, like losing my hair, feeling nauseous almost every day, and not being able to go out of the house much of the time because of low blood counts. Even with all the negatives, this life experience has opened up many new opportunities and introduced me to many people that I never would have met without this happening to me. I hope to inspire more kids in the future. Even though there are hardships in life, they can always make you stronger and make you realize that each day is a gift.
Annalise Haines