I guess you could say I had an unusual upbringing. I probably spent just as much time in hospitals as I did on playgrounds.
At just 10 days old my life my entire body turned blue and I was diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot. At the age of three I had my first heart transplant. That heart only lasted for a year and a half, and I received my second heart transplant at the age of five. Everything in my life was great as far as I was concerned (besides some minor surgeries) until the age of 11, when I had my third and final heart transplant.
Just shy of graduating elementary school, I already had three heart transplants, two open heart surgeries, a pacemaker, and countless other minor surgeries. Then, in late 2005, I came home from school not feeling well; my parents thought it was pneumonia, so I went to my doctor. She pushed on my stomach and I screamed in pain. I went for a biopsy and, just as my doctor thought, I had a tumor in my stomach. After all the hardships from my childhood, I was given another challenge to overcome.
At the age of 15, I was diagnosed with Post Transplant Lymphoproliferative Disorder (PTLD), a rare form of lymphoma formed from the immunosuppressive medicines I took to prevent rejection after my transplants. Cancer is normally a scary thing, but to me it was just another bump in the road. I didn't let it affect my life, just like I didn't let my heart transplants or anything else I had gone through affect my life. I had always gone with the flow.
But for some reason, chemo had opposite effects on me that it's supposed to have. But, that should be no surprise since I regularly defied the textbooks and constantly made doctors scratch their heads. I ate during chemo. My hair thinned, but didn't fall out. I didn't miss a single game while playing on my high school hockey team that entire season. By the end of my sophomore year of high school, I actually gained weight -- from 85 to 100 for the first time in my life at 15 years old.
To me, cancer was another card I was dealt and I wasn't going to fold my hand so easily. I was cancer free in less than a year. Honestly, the worst part of the whole experience wasn't even about how cancer and treatment affected me -- it was having to see my friend Sean get diagnosed with PTLD the year after I did. I met him on the heart transplant floor when we were kids. Sean was not as lucky as I was -- he fought for four years taking one step forward, two steps back, and finally lost his fight to the PTLD in September of 2010.
That was the hardest part of all this: watching someone who had been through everything you had been through lose their battle while you had overcome yours. Ever since that day in September of 2010, I decided to live my life in honor of Sean. That very year, as a member of my school's Relay For Life
event, I raised $10,000.00 in his honor. After graduating college, I went to work for the American Cancer Society
for a year and a half before moving on to a nonprofit organization that raised awareness and educated people about organ donations and being an organ recipient
I have done public speaking to share my story, I've spoken in rooms of ten people all the way up to over 2,000. I share my story to remind people never to give up. My family lives by the motto "Never Give Up" and it's something we take very personal. Since that day on June 30th 1989, I haven't given up, my family hasn't give up, and we will NEVER GIVE UP
. If another issue arises we will look at it straight in the face and take it on, because at the end of the day, it's just another bump in the road!
Do you live your life in honor of someone else? Tell us in the comments below!
Images courtesy of the author.