Thursday, April 10, 2014

BUMPS AND BRUISES



On July 24th 2012, my life changed forever. I look back on that morning and remember what my biggest concern was: getting to my summer job on time. That all changed when my mother picked up the phone when my pediatrician called. I had just gotten some blood work done so I thought it must’ve been the results. The look on her face said it all, it immediately went to a look of seriousness that I had never seen before. Something was wrong with the blood results.

We were told to come home to North Jersey from the shore immediately to have more tests done. Once in the car, we were told to go directly to New York City to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. That’s when I knew whatever was going on was very serious. But I still hadn’t got any answers. It was only when I was sitting in an oncologists office with my parents that I fully realized what was wrong with me. Three little letters would change mine, and my family’s lives forever: CML, otherwise known as Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia.

Growing up, I had always been athletic. A successful high school track and field career led me to earn a spot on the University of Virginia’s track team. The summer of 2012 was after my first year on the team at UVA. Leading up to my diagnosis, I didn’t feel sick, the year before I had been competing in Division I track meets and working out daily. I thought the constant fatigue was from the tougher workouts and adjusting to a higher level of competition. But then the bruises came, and they stayed.

The day I was diagnosed with cancer, I was sporting a baseball size bruise on my hip that had been there for two months. Naturally I thought nothing of it; little did I know this was one of the only symptoms of my cancer that I ever experienced. In the weeks leading up to my diagnosis, the bruises were getting so bad my older brother, Tommy, kept badgering me to get a blood test to make sure everything was all right. That’s when everything spiraled out of my control.

Too put the numbers into perspective, on a normal, healthy person’s blood report, the white blood cell count is between 4 and 10, my pediatrician had never seen a white blood cell count higher than 50, when I was first diagnosed, my white blood cell count was 317, 30 times the normal amount. That’s why I was immediately called into the cancer center, and that’s why the doctors were shocked to see a 19 year old, “healthy looking” track runner sitting before them. 317 was dangerously high, so high that I spent 6 days in the cancer center while medicine brought my white count down to a safe level. Once I dipped under 100, I was allowed to leave. The picture below is the day I left the hospital.


CML is caused by a mutation in my chromosomes, which codes for the overproduction of abnormal, underdeveloped white blood cells in my blood and bone marrow. This type of cancer is slowly progressing, so slow that doctors said my white blood cell count had probably been growing for months to years without my knowledge. It is, however, easily managed with medicine. I was extremely lucky that I did not lose my hair, or have to undergo intense chemotherapy. Instead of intense IV chemo, I take oral chemotherapy pills everyday twice a day, since the day of my diagnosis. Since there is no permanent cure for CML, I will have to take the medicine for the foreseeable future. The meds keep the disease at bay and I’m able to live a normal life. Other than bone marrow and blood tests every couple of months, not many people can tell that I’m a cancer patient.

As of today, I’m in the last stage of remission, very close to having no trace of cancer in my blood or bone marrow. The year and a half in between diagnosis and remission was nowhere near easy. I found myself trying to adjust to so many new changes that I was getting overwhelmed easily. Some days were better than others. I remember asking a few times, the quintessential cancer question: why me? Why did this have to happen to me? Teens are often told at length that we all feel “invincible” during our young adult years; I was one of those people.

I never thought something of this magnitude would ever happen to me. But at the same time, I found myself asking another question: why not me? How did I get a form of cancer that is so easily treatable that on the surface I look like any other University student? While I’m able to interact with the rest of the world, sicker men, women, and children are fighting the fight from the confines of a hospital bed. They deserve the real credit, they’re the real warriors, carrying on through the pain and emotional stress, determined to get to the day when they can hear the words “cancer free.” To those people still fighting, I am in awe of your unending strength and perseverance through the darkest of times. You are the very essence of the human spirit and you inspire others around you to help end this terrible disease.

In the end, I believe that cancer has given me more than it has taken from me. It has given me a new perspective on life and the support of the people who surround me. To my family, friends, teammates, coaches, co-workers, doctors, and anyone who has given me kind words of support, I am eternally grateful. Your encouragement has made every day of my fight so much easier. I don’t think I take as many things for granted anymore, and everyday I’m reminded of how lucky I am.

Cancer has given me a first-hand experience, which I hope to use as fuel to get others involved in the fight. Everyone knows someone who has been affected by cancer and in my opinion that number is way too high. Thankfully, events such as Relay for Life exist, and people of all ages are able to get involved and raise not only money, but also awareness, support, and most importantly, hope. The fight to end cancer is far from over, but I am grateful that there are so many selfless individuals who take part in these events every year. The hope that one day we will all live in a world without cancer is why I relay, thank you to everyone taking part in this year’s event to help eradicate this disease. Together we can bring and end to cancer!

With Relaylove,

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

ANTHONY GILL SUPPORTS RELAY FOR LIFE AT UVA!



Anthony Gill of the University of Virginia Men's Basketball Team shares why he relays in our very first virtual blog! This is definitely a must watch. Thanks for sharing Anthony!

With Relaylove,

Monday, April 7, 2014

STATISTICS


Statistics are necessary when discussing cancer. But, I out of all people hate Statistics though relatively speaking, I detest cancer much more.

From the age 30 to 39, there is a 0.44% or 1 in 227 chance for women to develop breast cancer.

From the age of 40 to 49, absolute risk to develop breast cancer is 1 in 68, or 1.47%.

The day after my mother’s first mastectomy was my 11th birthday and I remember being so surprised as I received that happy birthday call from her hospital room as I got ready for school. When we were finally allowed in to see her, she seemed so defeated- her eyes would barely open.  My mother had just turned 39 and was battling stage two estrogen positive breast cancer.

After surgery, she underwent months of chemotherapy treatment. She had a port installed to ease the pain of the needle but the side-effects of chemotherapy and the other medications she had been placed on still did their toll. She lost her nails and taste buds and knew her hair was soon to fall out thereafter. While I myself cherish my long brown hair, to this day, the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do was help my mother shave her head. However, undergoing such things are necessary. My mother was announced to be in remission.


The chance of a local recurrence in five years is about 6% for women with negative lymph nodes (ie do not contain cancer). For those with cancer in one to three nodes, the chance of local recurrence in five years is about 16%.

The less time between when the cancer was thought to be gone and the time it came back, the more serious the situation.

                18 months later, we had another family meeting- the cancer had come back. My mother was 40 now and would undergo many more surgeries. This time around, she underwent radiation treatments. My brother was learning to drive that summer and those daily trips to the hospital that summer added up to complete his required hours of driving. Radiation was easier on her spirit but just as tough on her body. Radiation basically killed the skin on her chest but I can say now, in a very creepy way it has begun to revive itself over time. She was again announced to be in remission and my family planned a ‘Celebrate Life Party’ in her honor as a way to declare the cancer gone for good.


It is not possible to guarantee that a person who has completed cancer treatment will never have the cancer come back- however, there is a 5-year survival rate that is used as a standard way to discuss the prognosis(survival rate).

                The cancer has not yet come back nor do we think it will. My mother is more vibrant and full of life than ever and I cherish her as my true best friend. However, as her daughter, my own chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer is statistically different than others.

In the US, about 1 in 8 women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime(just under 12%). A woman’s risk of breast cancer approximately doubles if she has a first-degree relative (ie mother, sister, daughter) who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. If your relative was diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age(typically under 45-50), your risk of developing breast cancer is increased further.

                I started relaying in honor of my mother. I’ll admit that I still find it extremely difficult to verbally share that part of my story without getting overly-emotional, but my reasons to relay have since evolved. Now, I relay for myself and in fear that those around me that I call my acquaintances, neighbors, friends, best friends, roommates, and even sisters would have to go through anything similar. Regardless of each of our specific chances of developing cancer are, every dollar donated and every person who gains awareness is one step closer to reducing each of our chances- to saving lives, reducing heartache or grief, preserving childhoods, and most importantly, increasing birthdays.

With RelayLove,
Logistics Chair

Friday, April 4, 2014

THE LONG FIGHT


Over the past six years of my life, my name has come to be synonymous with Relay For Life. And with all the facebook posts and constantly telling people to come to Relay events, I'm not surprised. However, many people don't know why I Relay. Sure, people know I've done it for a long time, but most people don't know what drives me in the fight against cancer. Well, six years of fighting cancer is hard to describe in a few words, but hopefully this blog post will do it some justice.


My story with cancer began at the age of 11. I didn't really know much about the disease, except that it was something that life threatening that caused people shaved their heads.  My cousin in Pakistan had been diagnosed with cancer, so we were going to visit him in December of 2005 for a month and a half. The last time I had seen my cousin was when I was two, so I barely remembered anything about him. Everything I was expecting was based on the few photos I had seen of him before our trip. When I actually met him, I was in shock. His skin had been darkened by the radiation treatment, his hair thick dark hair had become short and thin, and he was literally looked as if he weight half as much as he used to. However, he was on the road to recovery, and doctors believed that all that he was finally cancer free. Although he didn't look like what I imagined him to be, my cousin seemed to be fine. However, his condition soon began to change. He wasn't able to stand long periods of times, became easily tired, and couldn't hold down food. When he was taken to the oncologist, they found that the cancer had spread out of his brain and into his back. They immediately admitted him into the hospital, where I had to say good bye to him. Within a month of my return, he went into a coma, and soon passed away. I began Relaying in memory of him.


My junior year of high school, my aunt was diagnosed with cancer. My aunt was a very strong woman. She lost her husband very early and raised three children on her own in Pakistan. In a nation like Pakistan, this was a major feat. In 2006, she immigrated to America with her children. When my cousins got married, her job of raising her children was done, and she could finally enjoy life with her grandchildren. However, a few months after the birth of her first two grandchildren, she was diagnosed with Brain Cancer. They operated and were able to rid of the tumor, but she was not the same. She grew much weaker and became bedridden. She was unable to walk on her own and became dependent on everyone. They had rid her of the cancer, but she was not the same person. A year and a half later, they found the cancer had come back. Last year, on March 16th, I lost my aunt to brain cancer. I Relay especially in memory of her this year.


Upon entering College, I also found out my former AP US History teacher, Rudolph Pekarek, was diagnosed with Cancer. Mr. Pekarek challenged me, frustrated me, and sometimes even deprived me of precious hours of sleep. But most importantly, Mr. Pekarek helped me realize that I should do what I wanted with my life. Coming from a traditional South Asian background, my parents had always wanted me to be a doctor. No matter how long the work took, or how difficult, I was actually enjoying what I studied. Mr. Pekarek is people I credit for helping me realize what I want to do in life. Luckily, Mr. Pekarek is now Cancer free, and I Relay in honor of him.

These Relay for the people in my life who have been affected by cancer, but they are not the only people I relay for. For the past six years, I've met so many wonderful people who Relay for their own reason. My Relaying began in my hometown of King George. Although we're a very small town, King George has a lot of Relay spirit, and people of all parts of the community participate in the event. What I found so inspiration was the energy that people had and their dedication to Relay. Specifically, I remember our event chair, Ursula Oesterwinter. When I first met her, I didn't expect this elderly woman  to be very animated. But as soon as she began to speak, she was able to hype of the crowd and speak so passionately about Relay. She is just one of the many people I got to Relay with in King George and they are the people that influenced me to Relay in college (and also be willing to wear a dress and high heels to fight cancer).


Relaying in College was a whole new experience. In King George, I was one of a few youth really active in Relay. However, Relaying with everyone being around the same age as me who were all just as passionate about eradicating Cancer was something new. They all have their own stories. Some are very open about it, while others keep it closed. For me, I didn't really feel comfortable about talking about losing my aunt until a few weeks ago. Whether it be for our parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, best friends, etc., we all are passionate about fighting Cancer. So Why do I Relay?: I Relay for the people I lost to Cancer, I relay for all the wonderful friends I've made on my Relay Journey and their reasons to fight, and I Relay for the hope of living in a cancer free world one day. 

With Relaylove,

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

BRAVERY


            I still remember the last outing I went on with Mr. Vivian. He took me ice- skating with his two daughters, Hope and Hannah, and quizzed us on Washington Redskins trivia the entire drive home. The Redskins were just one of Mr. Vivian’s many passions, which ranged from sports to the Civil War to coaching his daughters’ softball teams. Living just three doors down the street from me and being the father of my best friend, Mr. Vivian and his hilarious, warm personality mark the earliest memories of my childhood. Our families were incredible friends from the start.

I also still remember the night my parents told me at the dinner table that Mr. Vivian had been diagnosed with cancer. As a 5th grader, I didn’t really understand the magnitude of the situation, but I sure knew that this wasn’t good. However, as Mr. Vivian underwent treatment, his enthusiasm for life didn’t falter in the slightest. He continued to be the radiant, goofy dad that came on all our field trips and played basketball with us outside. Mrs. Vivian, Hope, and Hannah also were pillars of strength, embodying bravery and optimism every step of the way. The Vivian family has never ceased to amaze me regarding their ability to get through difficult times.


            I cannot think of anything that has ever been more difficult to grasp than finding out Mr. Vivian’s cancer had spread and would be terminal. Mr. Vivian was put on hospice in his home. Throughout this battle, the Vivian family continued to be united and unbelievably strong. This was not a situation that Hope, a 6th grader, Hannah, a 3rd grader, and Mrs. Vivian could’ve ever been prepared for, but they went through each and every day with grace and bravery. And Mr. Vivian exhibited this bravery as well. I remember visiting him as he laid in bed in their living room, and despite all that he was experiencing, he was still cracking jokes to me about my dog and calling his daughters by their nicknames as he always did. He acted with a level of courage I have never seen matched.

            On May 9th, 2006, Mr. Vivian passed away. I will never forget watching my best friend Hope, a 6th grader at the time, fearlessly stand in front of church full of people and speak beautiful words about her relationship with her dad. The impact that Mr. Vivian made on the lives of everyone in our close-knit community was so incredibly evident. Although Mr. Vivian is missed immensely every single day, the values and outlook on life that he instilled in his family and friends live on, and his presence is constantly felt.


           Hope, Hannah, and Mrs. Vivian continue to the best of friends with my family. Two summers ago, the three of them moved out to Colorado, a place that they always loved visiting with Mr. Vivian. The fact that they made this move away from the place they had always lived is just another example of their astonishing bravery. On the day I hugged them goodbye and they started driving across the country, I could only think of Mr. Vivian watching them with pride and a huge grin on his face. The path has not always been easy, but the Vivians have been the strongest people I know from the start, and they are greatly admired for that. They have truly shown me what it means to be brave.

            I Relay to find a cure. No one should ever have to experience losing a loved one to this illness. Brilliant people are at work researching, and I truly believe that a cure is somewhere out there waiting to be discovered. Together, we support one another through good times and bad. Together, we lovingly remember those we have lost and reflect on the lasting impact they have made on our lives. Together, we will Relay and finish the fight.

With RelayLove,
Entertainment Committee
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...