On January 1, 1991 when I was 4 years old, I was diagnosed with cancer. Specifically Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. For 3 years I received treatment and chemotherapy locally at Children’s Hospital. Sometime when I was in high school, I was declared cured and I thankfully haven’t had any follow up care or health problems since. Here are my reflections as an adult who was lucky enough to survive childhood cancer.
Most of My Memories are Not Bad
I have vivid memories from my experience, but not many are negative. A distinct memory I have is of being very very sleepy and laying on my Grams’ couch. As I was resting I could hear the adults talking about how odd it was that I was suddenly tired a lot. I remember the doctors appointment when they showed me the port that they were going to implant into my chest. However, once I got it I joked with my family that it was my really big “boob.” There is only one time that I remember feeling really sick. My mom and I stayed home all day and I vomited a lot. Starting kindergarten was complicated. I had to get my counts checked before I could go to school. It took two tries before I got to have my first day. Getting blood drawn was scary when they had to use a vein (I preferred a finger prick), and it seemed like I got blood drawn a lot.
Lots of my memories are happy. They always had Highlights magazine in the exam rooms for visits, and I loved reading them. I remember how kind the doctors and nurses at Children’s Hospital were. My oncologist had an accent and I loved how he pronounced my name, it sounded very dramatic. The nurses brought me real diapers to use on my baby dolls. The playroom upstairs at the hospital seemed like it had thousands of cool toys. I remember people coming to visit me during my hospital stays, and snuggling with my mom watching movies. Every detail of my Make A Wish trip is still fresh. My mom told me that I couldn’t request to go to Hawaii, that Disney World was more age appropriate. Sorority girls coming to our house to meet with us, and find out my wish. A limo picked us up for airport while all the neighbors saw us off.
As a parent, I have a deeper admiration for my parents.
I always knew that I had great parents; however now that I am a parent I can’t imagine how they survived my cancer. I’m sure they would tell their story much differently than I tell mine. They are the heroes. As the mother of a 4 and 6 year old, I cannot imagine getting the news that they got. On top of having a sick little girl, my mom was pregnant. My brother was a newborn and they were caring for me. Their strength was amazing. I am positive that their attitudes and behaviors back then are why most of my memories are good and not sad or scary.
Unfortunately not all kids get the happy ending that I got. Lots of factors went into me surviving. My vigilant parents noticed quickly when things seemed off with me: excessive bruising and fatigue. My age, race, gender, and type of leukemia all played in my favor. I was lucky to get exceptional care. While it is crazy to look back at the obstacles I had to overcome by the age of 7, I think that overall it has made me a strong person.