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Five Years Cancer Free and Still Fighting

by Patrick Betters
February 14, 2014

Patrick shares his thoughts on becoming a childhood cancer survivor.


Patrick with one of his nurses when he was being treated for pediatric cancer.

At 17 years old I was almost a man, but still considered a boy. I spent my days thinking about how my wrestling season was going to go and which college I would attend next year.

I was only able to be a normal 17-year-old boy for three days before I was forced into more responsibility than I ever could have imagined. On September 18, 2006, my life as a high school senior was no longer a priority. I had gone to sleep Sunday night and woke up a few hours later gasping for air.

A lady that would come to be the person that saved my life greeted me in the ER. Non-Hodgkin T cell lymphoma were the words I did not yet understand.

Cancer. That is the only word that stuck from everything she told me. Suddenly, death was all I could think about.

Most 17-year-old boys don’t think about childhood cancer. We think about prom, sporting events, wrestling matches, which girl we want to take to the dances. Not once did I think about the possibility of being diagnosed with cancer. Not once did I think my senior year would be the most difficult year of my life.

I was admitted to the ICU the day after Thanksgiving in septic shock. Mucormycosis was the diagnosis. A fungal infection had taken advantage of my subdued immune system, and only later did I find out just how deadly this infection can be for someone with childhood cancer. After taking an experimental medication and having 25% of my lungs removed, I was able to continue fighting both the cancer and the mucormycosis on the oncology unit (what I then considered my second home).


Patrick during treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

After two and a half years of chemotherapy, radiation, surgical procedures, and antifungal medication, I was pronounced in remission. I was cancer free. I thought that meant the battle was over and everything was going to be OK. I didn’t think it was only the beginning.

I was done with chemotherapy. I was healthy. But that is when the fear of relapse came into play. Without the chemotherapy, what is keeping the cancer away? If I don’t have an appointment for another month, what happens if it comes back today? What if it comes back and I find out too late? These are just a few of the questions that came to mind daily.

I have learned that cancer takes no breaks, no time outs, and it will not stop until we stop it ourselves.

Over time, the questions have slowed down. Relapse isn’t on my mind as much, but it is still a fear. Now, I am 24 years old. On January 23, 2014, I was five years cancer free — a survivor.

In my 24 years of life I have experienced more loss than most people I know. I lost two of my closest friends from the hospital during my treatment. I lost over a dozen children that I had become a big brother to.

As a survivor I have realized that the battle only continues, the pain never stops, and each morning is truly a gift. Most days I feel guilty that I survived and others didn’t, but I made a promise that I will continue to share every one of our stories so their lives can be remembered. I have made it my mission to spread awareness so that one day this disease won’t stand a chance against these warriors, and I believe this is my purpose here on Earth.

Forced to become a man at 17, I learned from each of my experiences, and my journey with childhood cancer may be the biggest one. I have learned that cancer takes no breaks, no time outs, and it will not stop until we stop it ourselves. The fight continues and the world needs to know about it. This is how I feel today, as a survivor.


Patrick and Zach, his friend and a fellow childhood cancer survivor.

Patrick started the Club Cancer Blog for other young adults, teens, and children with cancer to share their thoughts and experiences.

You can do something to help kids with cancer, too.

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