Life Changes in the Blink of an Eye!
It was early March of my sophomore year of high school. I was experiencing knee pain that seemed to be getting worse by the day. As an athlete, you have many aches and pains in your body. So when I started to feel pain in my knees I thought it was soreness from playing water polo or golf. I was hesitant to make a big deal out of it because, at the time, my dad was dealing with both leukemia and Parkinson’s disease. However, my parents did get an MRI on my knees. The results were handed over to City of Hope where after multiple weeks of tests, it was confirmed that I had Stage 4 Large B-Cell Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in my bone marrow!
I saw shock, fear, dread, panic, and fright in the eyes of my parents when Dr. Sato, Chief of Pediatric Oncology at City of Hope at the time, shared the diagnosis. We had been bracing for the worst and hoping for the best. It was only a week prior that Dr. Sato said we needed to pray I had cancer because the alternative would not be good. So cancer did not sound that bad when I considered the alternative. There are many forms of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, some are much worse than others. I thought I was fortunate it was treatable. That was the good news. The bad news was they had to attack my body pretty fiercely with chemo treatments to stop the cancer from spreading to my brain. Dr. Sato told us, although cancer might not take my life, the effects of aggressive chemotherapy treatments could!
My Battle with Cancer
Thus began my year of living at City of Hope. I experienced nausea, a collapsed lung, fever, fatigue, throat and mouth sores, and even a personality change. I even had a bout with sepsis that almost took my life. I could see those most affected by this journey were my family, who worried about my ability to keep going, beat this disease, live my life, and what the future held for me. My mom, who was already dealing with my dad’s health problems, took care of everything for me and made sure that I had the best of everything and that I was well taken care of, all while working full time.
For me, I was trusting in God. When I received my cancer diagnosis I recommitted my life to God; I had been angry at God because of my dad’s illnesses. I then realized I could not go through this battle without God by my side. I continued to trust that with God’s help and the support of my family that I could do all things; even beat cancer! But life did get really tough. I prayed and read the Bible almost unceasingly. It was through the support of family, friends, and acquaintances that I saw the power of God working to help me and my family. God was there…
New Dimension to My Faith
I never really understood how incredibly difficult this was for my parents until, as I was coming out of treatment, my friend Paul took a turn for the worse. He and his mother were told there was nothing more they could do for Paul and he did not have much time left. I was devastated. Paul and I shared a special friendship, a closeness knit by God. I believe Paul had a stronger walk of faith than me. How could he not live? I realized then that answers to prayer are not always “yes” no matter how hard we pray. I also understood the deep-seated fear that my mother and father felt, even as I told them they lacked faith when they worried I might not live.
I now understood a dimension of faith that does not mean things will turn out as you request of God. In Paul’s case, God wanted Paul’s memory to glorify His Name. It was difficult to imagine that I would lose Paul, but I did within a month. During our last visit together, Paul was tired and was having difficulty breathing. He held my hand and gave me an all-knowing look that said goodbye for the last time. I know Paul is looking down from heaven cheering me on, but I miss him.
I was not able to go to Paul’s memorial service because, as unbelievable as this may sound, my grandmother (my mom’s mother), who likely had cancer as she sat by my bedside, died the same week as Paul. We had to fly back East to be with family and prepare my grandmother’s memorial service. I could see the physical and emotional toll it was taking on my mom. In a matter of ONLY 10 days, she found out my grandmother had terminal cancer, orchestrated the largest fundraiser of the year for the nonprofit she worked for, was released from her job days later, was at the hospital with Paul’s mother when Paul died, had a large high school graduation party for me, and her own mother died the day after I graduated high school! My mom was broken and tired. Even though she was forced to quit her job by her employer to go to my grandmother’s bedside, she did not get there in time because we had to remain one more day for my high school graduation where I was giving a speech. We rushed to make a DVD of my graduation speech only hours after I had given it to bring to my grandmother…she never heard it because my grandmother died on our way to the airport. (I’ve shared that speech with you if you would like to see it.)
Journey Ends in a New Beginning
Without a doubt, this was a tough journey that made even daily life difficult for my entire family. The good news is, both my dad and I are in remission today. (See my dad’s story in this section too!) My mom was the real unsung hero during this time. She provided love, support, and most importantly caregiving to both my dad and me, all while holding down a full-time job. I am to this day still at loss as to how she managed it all. She was always present when needed by me or my dad, and when Paul’s mom needed her as well. She was incredibly sad she could not get to her mother in time, but my grandmother died within two weeks of being diagnosed with terminal colon cancer that had spread to her liver.
My mom turned this experience into something good when she decided to launch Here to Serve. She has dedicated it to me and dad, along with our friends Paul Alindog and Jessie Mastan. But truth be told we should dedicate Here to Serve to my mom for her love and devotion to us and the amazing job she did bringing our family through this difficult journey.