Leaving Childhood Cancer in the Dust

by St. Baldrick's Foundation
June 7, 2012

By Graham Henry, childhood cancer survivor.

My name is Graham Henry and I’d like to share with you about a recent turn of events that changed my life forever.

The story begins when I was 16, and like most 16-year-olds, I was invincible. Well, at least I thought I was. It was summer and freshman year had finally come to an end. I had a license, a car, and many great friends. The only thing I was missing was money to fill the gas tank, so I got a part-time job at my local grocery store.

Summer break came and went in a blur. I had a few more shifts bagging groceries and collecting carts before school picked up again. I woke up on a morning just like any other, put on my work t-shirt and headed off. Little did I know this day would change everything.

I headed out to the parking lot to do my frequent grocery cart retrieval. I stacked up a small train and started heading back to the store when suddenly, out of nowhere, a car swerved towards me. I pushed my cart train out of the way, just barely missing them. My shoulder felt a little agitated, but I didn’t think too much about it. Hours after the incident, the pain got worse. Why did such a small action cause this?

A few x-rays and a biopsy later, I found myself in a recovery room at North Carolina Children’s Hospital. I was sitting on my bed when Dr. Stuart Gold came in the room and gave me the news about my shoulder. Ewing sarcoma, childhood cancer, chemotherapy, radiation, side effects, surgery, death; just a few of the topics Dr. Gold discussed.

It hit me like a brick wall. Cancer? I told myself, not me. I was invincible. I was healthy, active, and a nice person. Cancer? That wasn’t me. That’s for sick people. But there I was. Graham Henry, childhood cancer patient.

Adults commonly talk and tell stories about their “coming of age,” past events and situations that matured them and grew them up. Here I was, 16, coming of age in a single conversation. However, in retrospect, I handled the news differently than I figured I would. If someone had asked me before my diagnosis how I would respond, I would have told them that I’d freak out and throw a fit. Oddly enough, that wasn’t the case. I felt numb, but ready to take action.

I could spend hours talking about the trials I would go on to face: the endless days in the hospital, the constant throwing up, the painful side effects, and the thought of death lingering over my head. I write this to share with you, however, the bright light at the end of the tunnel. Cancer was tough, but the lessons I learned and the insights I had while in treatment will stay with me forever. It showed me what’s important in life, and what is just fluff.

As I left cancer in the dust, I began to explore new thoughts, things that never crossed my mind before. How could I live to my fullest potential? How can I make every day count? Could I change people’s lives for the better? Could I change the world?

There is a certain self-efficacy that follows after surviving against odds, be it cancer, or a dangerous car accident. As history shows, survivors go on to do remarkable things.

If you are reading this now and are undergoing treatment, start thinking. You may not care to win the Tour de France seven times, but you now have an appreciation for life that most others don’t. It would be selfish not to share it with the world.

Today I am cancer free and healthier than ever. My hair has fully grown back and it is nearly impossible to tell I had cancer. The experience has given me a drive to excel in life like never before, and has opened many doors. I’ve met incredible survivors of various illnesses, helped doctors at my hospital come up with new ways to approach childhood cancer, spoke with Senator Kay Hagen, met Jay Leno, and even landed my dream job at a multi-billion dollar video game developer.

I was 16 years old when I was diagnosed with childhood cancer. Today I am 18. A lot has happened in this short amount of time, and saying childhood cancer changed my life forever would simply be an understatement. The negative effects of what I experienced are plenty, but the few positive ones? They’re powerful: a new appreciation for life and a fresh drive to change the world.

The St. Baldrick’s Foundation funds lifesaving childhood cancer research that helps kids just like Graham. YOU could change the world. Get involved today!


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