This is part one of a two-part series where Ted Sibley, a 33-year-old childhood cancer survivor, tells his cancer story and how it has shaped who he is today.
Ted is now an emergency room physician, a profession he says he likely never would have chosen had he not been diagnosed with childhood cancer.
Before I was diagnosed with choriocarcinoma, a type of germ cell cancer, at age 13, the physician asked me a lot of strange questions: “Have you lost weight? Do you sweat a lot at night? Any strange aches or pains?”
After I told him about my stomachaches for the past year, he nodded his head and showed me the x-ray.
It showed my heart, lungs and bones. But there was something else: balls in my lungs. And I knew from watching medical TV shows that besides a heart, I should not have round things in my chest.
He told me he thought I had some type of metastatic cancer in my lungs and that I needed to go to Children’s Hospital immediately.
Learn more about childhood cancer >
I emotionally shut down. I was angry at the doctor who broke the news and I was angry at the staff.
I thought, “Once they do the right test and find out that I don’t have cancer, I can just go back to being who I am.”
The doctors told my family that they thought the cancer had started in my liver and moved to my intestines, kidneys, and finally my lungs. I sat in the bed while the oncologist presented a plan to aggressively treat the tumors.
When he was done, he asked if I had any questions. After a moment, I turned to him and said, “Yes. Can you leave?”
Soon after, I started chemotherapy.
Ted while he was in treatment for childhood cancer.
I felt weak and every day was a struggle with constant nausea and vomiting. My hair fell out, and I got thinner and thinner. My blood counts dropped with every round of chemotherapy, and I couldn’t leave my hospital room for months at a time.
Cancer had taken my childhood. I went from a young teenager enjoying school, sports and friends to one who had to contemplate my mortality. Was this the last year I would see my family? Was seventh grade the last time I would enjoy my friends at school?
But, while my body was using every bit of energy it had to fight the cancer, something inside me was changing.
My thoughts turned away from anger and “Why me?” Instead, I decided to live what life I had left.
I found great joy in visits from my family and friends. I made new friends in the staff in the oncology unit. Instead of being angry with God about what he had done to me, I found my strength in him.
That year, my attitude changed about being a “cancer kid” — and so did the treatment results. The tumors were shrinking. My family and I could talk about future plans and family vacations that we wanted to take. We celebrated small victories and appreciated each day together.
Ted in 1999, four years post-treatment for childhood cancer.
We discovered that although the chemotherapy shrank the tumors, I was left with hearing loss, kidney damage causing high blood pressure, and severe nerve damage. I had to learn to walk again, how to write again and, eventually, how to run again.
But, during it all, my goal was clear: I would enjoy the gift of life that I had been given and completely beat cancer.
Five years after my cancer diagnosis, and at the end of my senior year of high school, I was officially labeled “cancer free” on May 18, 2000. I had done it. I had beaten cancer. After everything I faced during my treatments and all that I endured during my rehabilitation, nothing could stand in my way.
That is, until cancer sucker-punched me again, reminding me of that fateful moment when I was 13.
June 7 is National Cancer Survivor Day. In honor of Ted and all survivors, donate to research and help fund better, safer treatments for all kids with cancer.
Read more childhood cancer survivor stories: