When you’re 6 years old, feeling sick usually means you have a fever or a stomach ache. So after recess one day in first grade, when I walked off the playground and got violently ill, myself and my parents didn’t think too much of it. In fact, I was happy to go home early. But in the ensuing days, when the farthest I could walk was from my bedroom to the bathroom, it became apparent to all concerned that my life was about to change forever.
From that point forward, I started to become more fatigued, achy, and irritable. I started to lose my appetite and feel chronically nauseous. On April 2nd, 2006, while I was on a three day hiatus from school, the news came. I had T-cell Leukemia.
To a 6-year-old, those words were gibberish. That same morning, I heard the word “cancer.” my mother was speaking to someone and the only word I heard her say was “Cancer.” I didn’t know what it meant, but I knew it was bad, really bad. I spent the next thirty-nine days in and out of intensive care. I don’t remember that time, but my mother tells me I spent most of them suffering seizures, sleeping with a dangerously low heart rate and passing in and out of consciousness. This was the beginning of my life as a cancer patient.
The rest of the year, it was apparent that I wasn’t going to make it. I was incredibly weak, sometimes so weak I couldn’t walk under my own power. I lost my hair to chemotherapy, and on some days, I lost my will to live. I missed my own birthday and countless holidays. At the tender age of 7, I had to grow up and face reality: my life could be over before it really started.
Despite the grim prognosis, my family never gave up hope, even when I had. Of course, my parents were by my side every day, on a constant rotation., there was hope. My brother took particular initiative, sponsoring countless fundraisers to help my cause and the cause of others like me, including Relay for Life, which is still an institution in our community to this day. On a larger scale, the entire community took my family in, helped us with hospital bills, sent us meals and kept us in their prayers. This overwhelming kindness was a shining beacon at the end of a very dark tunnel.
When I turned 8, my health took a turn for the better. The treatments were working. Hospital visits were shorter and less frequent. I became more active in school and started playing sports again. In June of 2008, I was officially in remission, an incredible milestone to reach in a fairly short time. 4th grade was my first full year of school. My skills were lagging, and it was a difficult transition, but one I was all too happy to make. By the time I entered middle school, I knew that things were getting better. My grades improved and I started a journey towards a varsity letter in both football and lacrosse. But across the board, I knew I had to work harder than everyone else. And that has been one of my biggest blessings.
During my illness, when I’d get hung up on sadness and pity, I dreamed about making it to college. I’m proud to be on the doorstep of that dream, but I know there’s so much more to do. I could not have known it then, but it’s clear to me now that beating cancer is the building block for the rest of my life. Everyone has their defining moments. Some don’t get to live them until their old, married, have children, or a career. I’m lucky I was defined early in life, and I’m forever grateful that I can still build on that foundation.
Without insurance, the level of care received would not be possible. To treat and support me, the pre insurance course in a three year period was 1.2 million dollars. I spent over 300 days in patient in that period. My parents made over the threshold for public relief plans and even if i did qualify for basic coverage, the home care to avoid an more extended hospital stay, the medications to improve the quality of my life, the drug coverage to cover the basic care, the co-pays for specialists required. I needed to see a neurologist, cardiologist, pulmonologist, nephrologist, oncologist, endocrinologist, physiatrist, physical therapist, dermatologist regularly. Without health insurance, my family would be bankrupt.
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