On November 23rd, 2002, at the age of two, I was being rocked to sleep by my mother who found a lump behind my right ear, prompting my parents to take me to the local pediatrician. From there, the local doctor sent me to The Hershey Medical Center to have tests done, and by Monday morning I was diagnosed with cancer. The diagnosis was very rare and I traveled to six different hospitals around the world, with each doctor coming back with a different diagnosis. With that, I was diagnosed with an undifferentiated sarcoma, a soft tissue tumor, located on the right side of my face and ribs. I was admitted to The Hershey Medical Center where my journey with cancer was just beginning.
Starting in December 2002, the treatment involved the surgical removal of my infected 8th right rib and a year-long course of chemotherapy administered every third week for five days. This approach, while effective in achieving remission, led to various complications, such as decreased blood counts, infections, hair and eyebrow loss, and the need for a feeding tube. Additionally, I underwent 31 days of radiation therapy at Johns Hopkins, during which I was immobilized and anesthetized to target the tumor. The intensity of the radiation resulted in severe facial burns and subsequent scarring. Nonetheless, the combined chemotherapy and radiation treatments ultimately succeeded in achieving remission, allowing me to return home free from cancer.
Unfortunately, after only ten months, a relapse occurred in my right lung, necessitating a thoracotomy procedure to ascertain the presence of the cancer. Chemotherapy was administered biweekly without significant tumor reduction, prompting a decision to pursue a Stem Cell Transplant. This intricate procedure involved administering near-lethal doses of chemotherapy, followed by the transplantation of previously harvested stem cells. I then endured a 28-day confinement where it was my mother and I in a hospital room. After followed a 100-day isolation period, resulting in remission for another six months.
A second relapse targeted the same right lung, prompting a shift to oral chemotherapy, which proved ineffective. After that followed another 31-day radiation treatment at The Hershey Medical Center and then followed an additional 11 months of remission.
Unfortunately, a third relapse manifested in the same right lung, prompting another thoracotomy. During the surgery, the surgeon presented my parents with two options. The options included the choice of removing both lobes of my lung, potentially leading to spending the rest of my life on a ventilator, or exploring alternative options. They opted to prioritize my quality of life and declined the lobectomy. To address the recurrence, 15 more radiation treatments were administered, totaling 77 radiation treatments in all. Despite the challenges, radiation proved to be the most effective measure against the tumor. As of February 12, 2007, I concluded my last treatment, and I am grateful to report that I have been officially cancer-free for sixteen years.