Childhood Cancer Survivor Speaking
It took 15 years to pass for me to come to terms with my experience and embrace them.
Today, I share my story of survival. Whether it’s organizations looking for motivation and inspiration or in support of advancing awareness and support of cancer research and care organizations.
I also serve on the Board of Directors for Minneapolis-based Pinky Swear Foundation. Pinky Swear Foundation eases the financial and emotional impacts experienced by children with cancer and their families by providing basic needs support during a very challenging time.
It was the summer of 1998. I was only a few weeks out of school, summer vacation was in its infancy. This was an important summer vacation too. It was the summer vacation between the critical grades of 6 and 7, when you go from elementary school to the all-important, seemingly grown-up world of junior high. Further, I was going from a small school to a big school. As a country kid, I was bracing for the “city school.” It all seemed daunting. I tried to ignored it all and focus on what was directly in front of me, preparing for my twelfth birthday which was just a few days away, June 14th.
SOMETHING WAS DEFINITELY WRONG
If you’ve ever suffered from a migraine, then you know headache pain. However, as a 12 year old boy with an insatiable amount of energy normally, that summer of 1998 headache pain was a drop in the bucket. That summer I experienced fatigue that would awe the Grimm brothers.
I would have spells where I would sleep for more than 24 hour periods only to wake in an effort to relieve the headache torture. Once nausea set in it all became just too strange.
My family physician was stumped. He decided to order a CT scan of my head to try to identify the cause, but a week before the scan my symptoms seemed to subside. The CT scan was canceled. My family was relieved. My energy was back and I seemed to be doing fine.
Suddenly, like a switch flipped, everything went terribly wrong.
I was riding in the car one day at the end of June with my mom. Nausea came back like a gut punch caught off guard. There was no hope of pulling over and getting out of the car in time. My poor mother. The headaches came back too. Those weren’t the only two symptoms. This time, my left eye went bloodshot and my vision blurred. My mother, a nurse, knew something was wrong. The CT scan was back on the schedule and summer was charging forward despite the horrific pain I was in. I cried myself to sleep.
THE WORDS A MOTHER NEVER WANTS TO HEAR (OR A 12 YEAR OLD FOR THAT MATTER)
July 6th came and so did the CT scan. I was in and out in relatively short order. I made the brief walk to my older sister’s house to hang out for a bit, I had plans to spend time with friends later.
Simultaneously, as I was walking home, my doctor was having a conversation with my mother.
They both worked at the same clinic and my mom would later recount the conversation to me. It went something like this:
“Naomi, we got Ryan’s scan results back. There’s something there that’s definitely not suppose to be there. We need to get him into surgery as soon as possible.”
I, however, was still blissfully unaware, for now.
In a few moments, my entire family would be descending upon by sister’s home and my life would begin a trajectory I never imagined. One that continues today . . .