Dear young warrior,
I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia on April 3, 2009. I was 15. After a month of intensive inpatient chemotherapy, I went into remission. Then came two years of outpatient chemo, and a bilateral hip replacement in 2011. A recent checkup with my oncologist confirmed that I’m still in remission.
I’ve been healthy for years, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t often think about it, about all of it — the people, places and feelings that comprise an entire chapter of my life. Now, not a single year will pass when I don’t feel April 3 looming weeks in advance. But I’m careful to never dwell, ruminate or brood on it, because what good would it do to wonder what might have been if I wasn’t diagnosed with cancer seven years ago?
People can’t fathom cancer. When your family and friends find out you have cancer, they may say, “I can’t imagine what that’s like for you and your parents. Your attitude is remarkable.” The funny thing is, I couldn’t have imagined what it’d be like either until I was faced with it. But I can recount the day I was diagnosed with as much vivid detail as I could tell you what I did yesterday. I can tell you I drove into Boston in my mom’s minivan with the seat reclined using my coat as a makeshift blanket, for comfort. I can remember the face of the doctor who told me I was sick. I can remember the nurse who came to console me and my family.
But every day after that was just a day like any other, and the only difference was that I was going through that day with cancer. I don’t mean to make light of the whole process, but at a certain point my coping mechanisms set in — consciously or not. I got up each day, completed whatever testing, treatments or therapies were set in front of me because I had to. I had to for my family, for my friends, and for myself. And at the end of the day, as I lay in bed thinking about whether all of the poking and prodding was worth it, the answer was always, ‘yes.’ I believed I still had something to offer this world.
And that’s the crux of the matter: hope. However faint and contrived it may seem, hope is what gets you through each day. Love gives you hope, the world gives you hope, and life gives you hope.
My hope now for you is that you will fight like I did. You will take each day as a mission, a personal challenge, and run with it. Give cancer and whatever else gets thrown at you on any given day as much of a fight as you can muster. Trust me, you will become stronger for it. That conviction, that resolve … it doesn’t just dissipate. It stays with you forever.
Your partner in this fight,
About the blogger: Ryan Hathaway remains under the care of Dr. Lynda M. Vrooman. He is a Communications major at Curry College, and works part-time at the Boston Globe and the Patriot Ledger. You can find Ryan at Boston.com this summer.
Learn about acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) treatment at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s.