Want to know what it’s like to be a teenage survivor of childhood cancer? We asked 16-year-old Michael G. to share his experience, during National Cancer Survivor Month.
1) Tell us a little about your life before cancer.
I was never much of an athlete; I typically stayed home and worked on my computer, played video games with my friends, and read books. I had tried to play many sports, but it just never worked out… I was slow and weak, and I never really wanted to put in the effort to improve. My parents liked to try to make me work out, but no matter what we tried, nothing seemed to improve.
We saw several different doctors about growth and strengthening, and while I was put on growth hormones to help with my height (which still isn’t great), nobody was ever able to discover the mystery of why putting on muscle or weight was so difficult for me. Not much of this changed until the day I was diagnosed…
2) How did your battle with cancer begin?
Due to the aforementioned things, I often had to do physical or occupational therapy. In late 2017, my right leg began to hurt beneath the knee. I thought something may be up, but we dismissed it as a pulled or strained muscle during physical therapy. I noticed my leg starting to swell up and pointed it out to my mother. Her reaction, now that the swelling was obvious and the leg was warm and hurt to the touch, was to call and set up an appointment with my pediatrician.
At the appointment, my leg was x-rayed, revealing what almost looked to be a healing broken bone. Two of the three possible options my pediatrician came up with involved me breaking a bone and seeing as I absolutely never broke a bone or even came close to, the conclusion was that there may be a tumor eating it away, and we were sent to Dallas the same day.
The orthopedic surgeon we met with in Dallas had an MRI and a needle biopsy done, and when both of those came back showing a malignant osteosarcoma, we were sent to meet with Texas Pediatric Oncology.
3) What’s going on with your cancer journey now?
At the time of writing this, I’ve just finished my post-chemotherapy scans after an osteosarcoma recurrence in the neighboring bones.
I had a bone scan and a CT scan done, for like the hundredth time I might add, and then labs, and of course we should be receiving the results of those soon. If the scans come back fully clear, I’ll be allowed to have my port out!
Since my leg was amputated above the knee, I’m doing physical therapy with my prosthesis and starting rehab to adjust to driving without my right leg.
4) What has surprised you most about life as a survivor?
After being clear of any sign of cancer and totally finished with treatment, I was shocked at how normal my life went back to being. There were several permanent differences, such as losing the nerve in my leg that controlled part of my foot, however we found workarounds and they were always forgotten in the heat of the moment.
Of course, it was hard, and I never exactly ran the same, but my friends got over it, and so did I. This meant it was barely even considered when hanging out, unless it was something we had to find a way for me to do, almost like I was just normal, like them. I even had my hair back!
Now that I’ll be needing a new leg, rather than anything being seen as wrong, my friends and family have been nothing but amazingly supportive… If anything we actually joke about it! I’ve already tested a sort of rough draft of the prosthesis, and my friends have thought it looked super cool; quite the opposite of being seen as defective or messed up! Once I really learn that leg, walking and running will be even better than before!
Michael raised more than $7,500, himself, by shaving his head with St. Baldrick’s on April 29, 2021. He shares that his Christian faith has sustained him throughout his journey. “The biggest thing about both treatment and the aftermath is the greater realization of Christ’s work in my life. These trials have refined me, have allowed me to see what the Lord has done for me. This is, and always will be, my most important lesson and experience from cancer.”
Donate now and support research into better treatments so kids like Michael survive and thrive.
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