by Keanu Taylor
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.