I look at life through a lens that I never would have prior to having experienced cancer as a child, then as a young adult. Each and every breath is a gift and moment that shouldn't be wasted.
When I was 11, I thought life was normal. One day I’m sitting 5th grade math class, the next I find myself lying down in a hospital bed staring up at the hospital lights. The sounds found in a hospital are far different from those found at home when your next to your siblings and parents. The beeps and the IV in your vein. The smell of chemotherapy that is still embedded you clothing. Sorry I’m getting ahead of myself...
I remember lying down in that hospital bed waiting for the results of my first MRI. My mother and father were with me. Right before my neurologist gave me the word my mom overheard the voices of the doctors in the hallway. My mother walked into my hospital bedroom, and she looked at me holding together every fiber of her being. My mom is a nurse, so she understood everything that the doctors were saying. She patted my head with a pale face - I think this is the moment in my life where I knew something wasn’t right. My mom is the person who brightens up the room and her laughter is contagious. The silence of that moment before the doctor came into the room still rings in my ear to this day. The neurologist delivered the news to 11-year-old me that I had a spot on my brain. As a child, the terminology "spot" made me think that whatever was on my brain was like a sticker - easily removable. My older cousin came to the hospital that night along with the rest of my family to be with me and lighten up the mood. We all laughed and watch a movie, but as they left, they all said prayers. My older cousin in his prayer asked God that they could take away my tumor safely. I laughed and told him he was silly. I told him my doctor said that I only had a spot, not a tumor. Again, the silence came back as my family had to leave the room. As the sun set it was just me and my mom. For all that time my family was with me I had been holding in my tears trying to look strong for my younger siblings and parents. A mom is different in the sense that she knows. Silently she patted my head and looked in to my eyes and said "David its okay to cry. " In that moment I cried so hard. My heart was breaking. I was ripped out of the normal world of a carefree child and was forced to step into the word of craniotomies, chemo, and radiation.
The first night in the hospital was one of the hardest. I awoke to a damp, tear-stained pillow. After a couple days in the hospital, the kind radiology tech showed me my scan. The reason my world had changed was a large, tennis ball sized tumor on the upper right side of my brain. I got to know all the nurses very well each. My very first nurse Bridget, who at the time was pregnant, somehow made me laugh in the moment I just wanted to cry. This was more than 10 years ago the impact she had on my life during that time in my life will never be forgotten. I had to wait about a week and a half before they could even attempt the surgery due to the swelling. In that time my family would visit, my dad and siblings, uncle and aunties, and my cousins. I was only 11 but the fact that the were flying in from the other side of the country had to mean that they wanted to be with me if things didn’t go well. My father is a minister and all the members of our church visited me in that week and a half leading up to my surgery. I kept an empty notebook during that time to write down all of the names of my visitors. I had close to 200 people visit me in the time leading up to the surgery. Each and every visitor made me feel so loved and happy, but at the same time it felt like a knife was piercing my heart with each visitor. I hated hearing the word goodbye - I was scared that that was the last time I would see them.
The day of the surgery came and there was a moment when my mom and aunt were brushing their teeth as the nurses were prepping me for surgery. My aunt asked my mom if she was nervous. My mom replied to her "no." Both of them began to laugh because in their nervousness they realized they had accidentally switched toothbrushes. I laughed so hard. It was a special memory. Then the moment came I was in the prep room for the surgery it was just me and my mom and dad. I couldn’t help it. I was an 11-year-old boy going into brain surgery. I love my parents and as a child my heart was already broken, but in that moment, I felt an emotion I’m struggling to describe. I was a young boy terrified that I’d never get to see my parents again. As the anesthesiologist walked in and my neurosurgeon walked in, both my parents said a prayer in the O.R. prep room before I was wheeled into surgery. The doctors told my parents to head out and go on into the waiting room. I had run out of tears all that was left was faith in what God had in store for the future.
The first brain surgery was the scariest one for me. As I was wheeled underneath the UFO operating room lights there was nothing in me but this quiet nervousness. The anesthesiologist put the mask over my head told me to count down from 10...9…8…7... an then I was out. The next thing I could remember was Dr. Thompson my neurosurgeon and what felt like an army of nurses and residents. In my hospital room Dr. Thompson asked me how I was feeling and the first thing that I said after that nine-hour long brain surgery was that I was hungry. I remember my first meal after that surgery it was a blue popsicle. There was so much laughter and relief after that first brain surgery. This was just one of the first battles in the fight against pediatric brain cancer. All together I’ve had a total of 6 craniotomies, months of proton radiation, months of chemo, physical and occupational therapy. I’ve suffered from paralysis and for years I had epilepsy paired with radiation necrosis. Still, my love for life grew stronger than my fear of death. I’m writing about my story from a coffee shop on Washington Street in Savannah, Georgia. Alive and thankful to God for each and every single breath I breathe. If you’re reading this, I hope that you know you are loved immensely and that you are more than strong enough to beat cancer. God bless.
Cancer made me realize that I am not invincible, and that you only live once. Nobody knows when their last day is, so make those memories for yourself and your loved ones.
Cancer helped me to learn to value my time and only say “yes” to the things that I want to do!