When I was five years old, I got more and more sick. My parents didn’t know what was wrong with me. They took me to the doctor over the course of several weeks and he always misdiagnosed my symptoms. I had fallen three times and couldn’t breathe, had bruising, was pale, got bronchitis a lot, was anemic, and so forth. Finally, after five months of misdiagnoses, the doctor consulted with his son who was a cancer doctor in another city and he decided that I should see a cancer doctor for children or a ‘pediatric oncologist’. My mother drove me straight to that office and the pediatric oncologist pricked my finger, examined my blood under a microscope and knew in five minutes that I had a blood cancer called, ‘leukemia’. It was just two weeks after my 6th birthday and six days before Christmas when I was diagnosed with leukemia. Christmas, birthdays, and other special occasions all went out the window. I was rushed to the hospital and had to go through a very painful eight months of ‘intensive’ treatment. I had two tubes sticking out of my chest for about two years. The purpose of the tubes was to lessen the number of needles I got. The nurses could stick the needle into the end of the tube and not into me. But, I still got plenty of needles in other parts of my body. Kids who go through treatment for cancer endure a lot of pain. It actually made me highly tolerant to pain. It makes anyone who goes through this experience pretty tough overall. What most people think of as painful isn’t very painful to someone who has been through this treatment because they’ve had so much of it! And, anyone who has been through this type of treatment knows what it’s like to have patience. You’re stuck in a hospital bed and alone for so long that you learn patience and also understanding and sympathy for others who have had a rough time in life. Those are the benefits of having been through cancer treatment.
Anyway, my first eight months of treatment for leukemia were basically non-stop emergency medical care. I got to go home for an Easter egg hunt just for two hours from the hospital, for example. I had a chemotherapy drug shooting into the tubes in my chest while my dad stayed right behind me carrying the chemotherapy bag while I hunted for the Easter eggs. When I was done with the first eight months of ‘intensive’ treatment, I had another two years of ‘maintenance’ treatment. That is, I was on chemotherapy drugs for 2 ½ years. When I went into ‘maintenance’ treatment, I got to go to Disney World as a Make-A-Wish child and I went on the U.S.S. Entreprise for their family day because I loved the U.S. Navy when I was little. After that, I started to get sick with things like chicken pox (I had to stay behind glass at the hospital and only a nurse with a mask could enter for a week), bronchitis, etc. For five months, I kept getting sick really easily. In the end, six different types of specialist doctors examined me and each one told my mother that they didn’t know what was wrong with my lungs. My mom was told by the last specialist, a senior infectious disease doctor, that I wasn’t going to live. Most fortunately, the senior pediatric oncologist who was brilliant figured out that my body wasn’t producing its own antibodies because of all of the chemotherapy drugs I’d been taking. He gave me a synthetic antibody that did what my own antibodies would normally do and I lived. This was one of many times that this doctor and his team saved my life. That particular experience was still just a little more than a year before the end of my 2 ½ years of medical treatment in my battle against leukemia. I still had some other scary complications from taking the chemotherapy drugs and then I was finished with my treatment in June 1999 when I was 9 years old.
During my treatment, I missed Kindergarten and First Grade. I was at a Kindergarten reading level at the start of Second grade. Later, I repeated Third Grade at Landon School. Ten years later, I graduated cum laude and with varsity letters in swimming and water polo. I had also been in the orchestra for ten years at Landon and am also in the orchestra at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, where I am a freshman. Currently, I’m double majoring in Biochemistry and Computer Science in college.
I was treated at Inova Fairfax Hospital and when I was done with treatment, I joined Georgetown University Hospital’s Pediatric Oncology Long-Term Follow-Up Program. I have a medical appointment there each summer. Sometimes the drugs that patients take for cancer treatment can have long-term side effects, so they always check for this with me.
Each summer, I am a volunteer camp counselor at Special Love’s Camp Fantastic where kids battling cancer from the Mid-Atlantic region can go to have much-needed fun while receiving medical treatment. I also started an auction to benefit Camp Fantastic called, Alexander’s Auction.
I’m honored that you are racing and raising money for other families like mine! Thank you! Good luck on your race!