**The following post is a part of our blog series that we will do each month as a part of our cancer observance mission information. These courageous cancer survivors are sharing their story…..the good, the bad and sometimes the ugly. But the great news, thanks to the work of the American Cancer Society, they are with us today and we hope these stories provide inspiration to all who read them.
Most people know that September means the summer is over, school has started, football season is here, and Starbucks is selling pumpkin spiced latte. For me, it marks the beginning of childhood cancer awareness month. Did you know on average 47 children are diagnosed with cancer every day, meaning 1,410 children will be told, “you have cancer” during the month of September.
September is a stark reminder of the realities of childhood cancer. In 1993, I started my eighth-grade year like everyone else, I was excited as it was my last year at my school, and I would be graduating in May. Being in eighth grader meant a special class camping trip, school dances, and other special end of the year events. I knew it was going to be an exciting year and I was looking forward to all the fun.
That all changed one November night. I was at basketball practice when I was kneed in the back by a teammate. I immediately felt pain in my back and asked the coach to sit down. That pain I felt didn’t go away. For the next two months, it progressively got worse. Some days the pain was in my lower back, other days my upper back, I never knew where the pain would be, I just knew it was there. I couldn’t laugh, sneeze, sleep in my bed, be in a car, or sit in the chair at school without feeling an intense sharp pain in my back. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get comfort. I lost the desire to do anything. I knew something wasn’t right, my parents didn’t know what to do and none of the doctors I saw could tell us what was wrong.
In January, as I was getting ready for school, I bent over and immediately felt the worst pain in my life, a sharp stabbing pain, that I can only describe as someone putting a screwdriver in your spine. This pain prevented me from straightening my back and standing up. With tears rolling down my cheeks, I called my dad. He quickly picked me up and drove me to the nearest emergency room. He had had enough.
It was there, they did a blood test, and my parents were told, “you have a very sick daughter, you need to get her to Children’s Hospital immediately.” That night went drove to the children’s hospital with no idea what was about to come next.
After more blood work, a bone marrow biopsy, and a spinal tap we had an answer. My doctor told us I had leukemia. Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia to be more exact and the pain I was experiencing was due to the fact my bone marrow was 99% leukemia cells. I will never forget those words. As scary as those words were, I also felt a sense of relief. I finally knew what was causing my pain. I didn’t know much about cancer, but I did know if they could treat the cancer, my back pain would go away.
I never did return to school that year, but with the help of a tutor, I was able to graduate on time. My treatment lasted two and a half years, but the effects will last a life time. I am aware I am one of the lucky ones. I do believe I survived for a reason and my goal has always been to ensure no child has to go through what I did. I am grateful for the Gold Together initiative at the American Cancer Society. As part of their Advisory Council, I get to meet other childhood cancer survivors, spread awareness and advocate to ensure a better future for childhood cancer patients and survivors.
So, this September as your children go off to school, remember not every child will get to finish the school year. As you are watching the football game or waiting in line for your pumpkin spiced latte, know that every 3 minutes a child somewhere in the world, will hear the words, “you have cancer.”