Apple Juice – A Cancer Story
By Keanu Taylor
Imagine a Newark hospital at nine in the morning. It is a small, bland room, in New Brunswick Children’s Hospital. Ivy dangling aside the bed, attached to my cancerous body. TV left on from the night before. In the corner, last night’s dinner which I failed to indulge. I struggled to remember who and where I was.
“Morning son,” my father swayed my shoulders, disrupting my sleep. “Son, you have to get up.”
I could sense that he knew I was already awake, yet I proceeded to ignore it. After 6 months of already being in the hospital, waking up earlier than ten in the morning equaled either my blood needed to be taken or an unidentifiable substance was going to be injected into my veins. This would require a least six workers to make sure I didn’t resist or run out of the room.
“Keanu, come on!” I reached my father’s limit of patience. As I struggled to free myself from the rheum which glued my eyelids shut, I rolled over facing my father and the door. Accompanied by my father were six ladies dressed in blue, matching scrubs, anxiously anticipating my reaction to their presence. My eight-year-old body was defeated by the tiredness and weakening of my bones.
“He’s awake.” I heard one lady in a blue whisper out the door projecting her voice across the hallway. After my rise was publicly announced, a tawny man dressed in formal business attire disguised by a long white lab coat strolls in with a pitcher of a yellow substance on an overbed table. Suddenly, the tiredness was overthrown and the weakening of my bones tensed up in preparation for a fight or flight reaction. I sprung up and tightly guarded myself behind my father.
“It’s just apple juice son.” father assured me.
“They’re going to inject me with apple juice?” I inferred. The ladies dressed in blue battled against laughter while the tawny man replicated the George Bush grin. I was appalled at the fact that my concern was not taken seriously.
“Now, Now, Keynew?” the tawny man butchered my name, “is that how you say it?”
“It’s Ke-an-u.” Father corrected.
“Keanu. All you have to do is drink it,” I confirmed tawny man’s statement with the others within the room using the pyramid of evidence – my father being the highest ranking of credibility. “All of it,” he added.
Apple juice was my favorite fruit juice. Orange juice often appeared too tart, grape juice too artificial, and pineapple juice too sweet. Apple juice, however, combined all of other fruit juice abundance in harmony. Each gulp is like biting into an apple without the pain or worry of losing a tooth. Requiring me to drink apple juice as if it would help cure my sickness, leukemia, was iffy.
“Something must be in the juice,” I thought. The lack of distortion in color did not support that belief.
I adjusted myself comfortably on the bed, in preparation to examine the apple juice. Father left my side as one of the ladies in blue inserted the table over the bed. Accompanied by the apple juice pitcher was a 32-ounce clear plastic cup as well as large flexible straws. The pitcher contained exactly one gallon of apple juice. Before I make my first move, the lady in blue began to precisely pour the substance into the cup.
There was roughly a centimeter between the juice and the rim of the cup. The inserted straw adjusted the distance to less than half a centimeter. I began to salivate by the sweet smell resembling a candy shop filled with one flavor. Leaving the cup on the table, I leaned towards the cup and inserted the bent straw in my mouth. The watery consistency easily allowed me to chug the first 32 ounces in a matter of seconds. I reexamined the room and was presented with smiles of surprise from every member.
“One down, three to go.” the lady in blue motivated me to proceed as she robotically refilled the cup to the exact spot as before.
Uncertain of whether I was full, I began to indulge with no hesitation. Using all of my ATP, my pace began to slow down eventually forcing myself to stop halfway. The sweet taste turns sour and the adored smell transformed into the smell of urine.
“I can’t finish it.” I plead as I created a distance between the juice and myself.
“No worries,” the lady assured me, “You have all the time in the world.”
“Do you all have to stay in here?”
“Well someone’s gonna make sure you finish it.”
“True, but not all of you.”
Gradually, everyone except the lady, tawny man and my father trickled out of the room. Feeling less anxious, I leaned in to finish the second half of the cup.
“Good job. You’re halfway there.”
“Can I just finish it tomorrow?”
“I thought I had all the time in the world.”
The lady traveled across her mind, shuffling for the right response to have found nothing.
“Keanu,” My father raised his voice, “finish the juice now!”
The third pour was less consistent compared to the first two pours, barely leaving any space between the juice and the rim. I mind dragged my body towards the substance while my stomach tumbled for an escape. As I struggled to vacuum up the liquid I can feel every drop travel through my organs. My eyes began to water from the pain, yet I proceeded to let liquid back in. The cup was finally empty, yet I had 32 ounces left.
I became unresponsive and numb to the pain. My body refused to stay leaned up, drifting itself on its side in resting position. The lady brought the final filled cup towards me and injected the straw into my lips. Effortless the liquid crawled its way into my stomach. I watch the liquid slowly vanish before tiredness, overpowered my body. Cutting the show short, I passed out.
Imagine a surgical room at eight in the night. It is a small, white room, with blue curtains surrounding the room. The Ivy dangling aside the bed, attached to my cancerous body. Patients sobbing on the other side of the curtains. In the corner, a man dressed fairly casual, who resembled an older version of me.
“Hey, do you remember who I am?” the man inquired.
I traveled across my mind, shuffling for a single memory and found nothing except a vague memory of a disgusting sour substance similar to urine.
The man’s eyes began to water, carelessly releasing all tears. “I’m your father, son. I’m your father.”
This was the second time in my life I ever saw my father cry. Right after a dramatic surgery, in which there was a pretty low chance of me recovering. The first time I saw my father cry was the day he found out I had cancer at eight years old. After a year of bi-weekly hospital visits, and negative results of anything “wrong” with me aside from sickle cell anemia, the female doctor walked in with blood test results while my father kneeled beside the hospital bed.
“Your son has cancer.” the doctor stated and quickly left the room.
I can see my father become stiff to tens seconds as if the words paralyzed him, before he could resist but to cry hysterically. I could tell my father was in pain, but at the time cancer was nothing more than a really bad cold. Not only from the moment they informed my father, but during my entire chemotherapy experience. Within hours, bi-weekly visits became my new permanent home.
In the beginning, I was probably the worst patient the nurses had to deal with. Terrified of needles, nurses would change my around the hospital as I feared for my life. What usually requires one or two nurses for a simple blood test, required nearly every nurse on duty to hold me down. They still barely managed to take blood until I was physically too tired to resist. Slowly, over time, surgery after surgery, drug after drug, I began to lose enough bone density to walk or stand. And had to learn to accept defeat from the nurses a lot sooner than the days prior.
Aside from hundreds of needles and I.V’s, life within the hospital was actually…fun. Okay, maybe fun isn’t the best word. However, at the time, I hated school and wasn’t the most social butterfly. While I did have assisted schooling, the one on one interaction and attention I got for the care provider was far more fulfilling than having to be lectured by teachers who could barely pronounce my name.
On top of that, I was able to watch my favorite cartoons and order whatever I wanted for lunch for the week. I also had the power to call for assistance at any point in the day. Occasionally, I would even get to play with the other kid cancer patients, one of which I had a huge crush on. In a sense, It was every kids dream – be coddled, eat whatever I want, watch whatever I want, and play with my crush.
Behind the scenes, I was unaware of the financial and emotional turmoil this experience placed on my family. My father around the same time lost his job and was forced into assisted living, my grandma also became diagnosed with cancer, and the odds of both of us surviving were slim. When it was determined that I needed a bone-marrow transplant, finding a match was a challenge. In order to get a bone marrow transplant blood received has to be donated from the same or matching blood type or O negative (which is the universal blood type).
To make matters worse, the chances of a family member having the same blood type is quite slim. My father insisted that we test out each family member’s blood for a match. Luckily enough, my brother was an exact match. Upon, my brother’s approval, I received a bone marrow transplant, which had my brother paralyzed for a month. This ultimately saved my life, as this was the first time the doctors began to see positive signs of recovery in my test results.
During early September 2004, I was finally in remission with no signs of cancer as well as no signs of sickle cell anemia. It is known to be nearly impossible to cure sickle cell anemia. When I tell people I am cured of both, they could hardly believe me. Speaking of “cured”, being in remission doesn’t mean cured.
In order to be considered cured, patients must be cancer-free for 10 consecutive years from the day they began remission. During early September 2014, while embarking what was supposed to be one of the biggest life-changing experiences known as college, I simultaneously was embarking an even bigger life-changing experience – life cancer and sickle cell anemia free.
As a cancer survivor, I am twice as likely to have cancer again than someone who never had cancer. The chances of me being able to have children of my own are about as equal as my chances of winning the lottery. The scares branded on my body are permanent. Additionally, odds of me fully recovering from cancer without any signs of depression, suicidal thoughts, or any form of mental disability are slim to none.
Having cancer and sickle cell taught me a lot of things. The way the nurses and caregivers cared for me as if I was their own, taught me that we are all one big family and to care for others as you do your mom. My obliviousness to the trauma of cancer taught me that the same experiences can have dramatically different effects on one another and to be understanding when someone has a different point of view than mine.
Most importantly, the scares and disabilities taught me that my body and mind are art – the scares are merely memories and the disabilities do not mean I’m disabled. Life can be over tomorrow, so make the most of what you have today in hopes that you can do it over and over for years to come.