It Came, We Fought, I Won

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Journey through cancer

Submitted: February 10, 2015

A A A | A A A

Submitted: February 10, 2015

A A A

A A A


I think for a teenager like me, the hardest part of going through something like cancer isn’t necessarily the illness but the social aspect that comes along with it. I think the hardest part for me was not having someone outside my direct family who knew exactly what I was going through, and in some ways that might be my fault. I was never shy about talking about any of it but I also wasn’t going to say much if you didn’t ask. So this is for anyone who is curious about what exactly it was like to learn that you have cancer, fight it, and beat it.

It came, we fought, I won:

A ride down the road of cancer through the eyes of a teenager.

By Sam Jacobson

I was always the type of kid who could come up with one of the coolest ideas but then be too scared to actually try something I was unsure about. I would be intrigued by anything that sounded hard, but probably just decide that it would be easier to just worry about it later. Pretty much, as a fifteen year old, I was exactly what you would see if you looked up ‘freshman in high school’ on Google. Until December 8 2010, when everything changed for the worst, or so I thought then. 

My freshman year in high school started just about the same as every other ninth graders’ at West Junior High school: bummed out that summer was over and school was back in session for the fall, staying busy with homework and sports, hockey and golf for me. I had so many different things going on that I was annoyed by the same silly things every other kid gets upset about, like not hanging out with friends on a Friday night because I had a game, or not being able to go to Jack In The Box to get a burger after school because my dad only gave me ten dollars which I probably spent on food and soda at school. Everything seemed so normal, like the only things I had to worry about were school and sports. That would change rather quickly over the next three months. 

For about the past six months, probably going back to February or March, I was experiencing an on and off cold. Although it wasn’t really a cold, just a bad cough. I didn’t feel sick, I just had an awful cough that I just couldn’t control. It almost felt like there was a rock inside my chest pushing against my lungs. I could feel the weight of it when I laid down and after some time it was making me cough almost constantly. I guess we just assumed that I had a cold that I couldn’t shake and my body was changing because of puberty. The cough got worse and worse though and around my birthday in November we went to the doctor. My doctor thought the cough was pretty bad but just some sort of virus. He gave me a prescription and told me to come back at the start of Christmas break to check in, so I wouldn’t have to miss school. Little did I know, school would be the last thing on my mind when Christmas break finally rolled around.

I went home from the doctor, went to hockey practice and probably did my homework that night and got up for school the next morning, no different than any other. By this point nearly any physical activity would wear me out much easier than it should have. I would be exhausted after just a shift or two of a hockey game, even things like walking up the stairs became a challenge. My cough got worse and worse and my mom was getting worried. We decided to go back to the doctor two weeks before we were supposed to. The doctor soon realized that we were dealing with more than just some sort of small virus. He told us to come back the next day to get a chest x-ray done. I went back to school that day for my afternoon classes. The next morning I went to my first two classes and then left before third period to go get my x-ray done and talk to the doctor. I remember the day like it was yesterday. 

My mom picked me up from school and even though we didn’t know anything for sure, she knew something wasn’t right, the mood in the car was quiet, almost suspenseful. We got to the doctors’ office and went back to the exam room where we met Dr. Rutheford for the second straight day. He too me across the hall to get an x-ray done. I was in there for probably fifteen minutes while the nurse took some pictures. Then I went back to the exam room to wait for the doctor. My dad had decided to come to this appointment so by then there were already three of us plus a nurse in the small ten by ten foot room when the doctor returned. The room was quiet when he came in. He had a file in his hand and he sat down and opened it up. I don’t think he actually read anything when he looked at it, but I think it made it easier for him to say what he had to say. I remember him telling us that it looked like something called Hodgkin’s disease. He based this on the x-ray that showed there was a tumor in my chest about three times bigger than my heart. At the time I had no idea what that was. He explained some stuff to my parents, none of which I understood. He told us that we could leave and to expect a phone call from him in a few hours. The three of us, me and my parents, left and ate lunch somewhere. After that we went into Golf Galaxy to look around for a little while as we waited to hear from the doctor. After a short while in the store my mom’s phone rang and we all rushed outside. She told me to go to the truck and answered the phone as I unwillingly walked away. I remember sitting in the back seat of my dad’s truck, looking out the window watching my mom talk on the phone. After a few seconds, I saw her collapse into my dad and they both started to cry. That was the most painful thing I have ever experienced, seeing them like that. That was the first and last time I had ever seen my dad cry. After a minute they were both back in the car and we were driving away. The only thing I remember from the car ride was my mom turning back to me and saying “So here’s the deal buddy, you have cancer.” From there on out, my life, in some ways, would always be changed. 

The rest of the afternoon continued as easily as you could hope for considering the current circumstance. The three of us got home, Jack, my brother, got home on his bike from school shortly after and my mom drove over to Horizon Elementary to pick up my little sister,

Kate. For the time being, we weren’t telling anybody what we knew, including my brother and sister. This afternoon was a very long one. Immediately, just about everything else became irrelevant, school, hockey, etc. Honestly, I don’t think I was ever very scared. Just curious about not knowing exactly what the next few months would look like. Although I would only have to wait until the next day to get a detailed treatment plan, explaining exactly what treatments I would receive over the next two and a half years. This would dictate practically all of my life for the next six months.

The next morning was interesting and difficult at the same time. I had to go to school for my first two classes, and let the rest of my teachers know that I would not be in class that afternoon. The last teacher I talked to was Mr. King. I had him for both third and fourth periods, AVID and physical science respectively. I walked into his classroom at break and caught him on his way out. I walked down the hall with him for a minute and explained that, once again, I would be missing class due to a doctor appointment. By this point he was getting worried and he asked me if everything was ok. Remembering what my parents said, I told him that I was fine, even though I knew I was scheduled for surgery in four hours and it would be months before I would actually be back to class. 

After break my mom came and picked me up from school and we made our way downtown to the hospital. The first place we went was to the fourth floor of the main building, the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. There we met with the surgeon who would be doing my procedures later that afternoon. Next we went back downstairs and began looking for the room where I was supposed to go before surgery.  The hospital was huge and I had no idea where anything was, a problem that I would overcome very quickly. After a little while we made our way around a few corners, past the gift shop and found the front desk to the surgery unit and checked in.

 We probably sat in the waiting room for at least an hour before the nurse came in and took me to the pre-op room. Once there I got dressed in the cliché robe and sat down in the bed. After a few minutes my parents came into the room along with the anesthesiologist. He explained to me what was going to happen and then we got started. He poked a needle into my forearm and hooked it up to an IV pole with all sorts of things hanging off of it. He gave me a mild anesthetic which didn’t put me to sleep, but just made me weak. I felt exhausted and tingly, like I was floating in clouds. It was actually a very nice feeling. I remember being wheeled out of the room and down the hallway to the operation room. There were bright lights on the ceiling and that was the last thing I remember. They did a number of things during the surgery. The first thing they did was they took a biopsy of a small tumor out of my neck, which was riddled with marble sized cancer balls. The next thing they did was put in my port. A port is just a small metal piece a little bigger than a quarter and about a centimeter deep. It goes just under the skin on my chest and has a small rubber hose that goes from the metal piece into an artery that comes out of my heart. The majority of my chemotherapy would be given to me through the port. A needle gets put into the port and the chemo is injected and circulated throughout my body in a matter of seconds. The last thing they did was give me my first of many Lumbar Punctures (LPs). A way of giving someone chemo into the spinal cord in their lower back. This is how they got treatment to my bone marrow and brain. 

Although it’s hard to remember any specific details from the surgery I do remember waking up. As soon as I woke up my parents and siblings were all in the room. I was dizzy and light headed and not too sure about what was going on. I remember trying to eat a Popsicle but I was so out of it I don’t think I could even get it to my mouth. By this time it was nearly six in the afternoon and it was time to go up a few stories to the fourth floor, the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). I would be stuck here for the next eight days. And that would probably be the longest, most boring week of my life. That week consisted of a constant flow of chemo, doctor checkups, and three awful hospital meals each day. 

I got to go home after a week which was nice because Christmas was just around the corner. I still had to go to the doctor at least once a week but I could deal with that. All of my dad’s family came to town from Oregon and Washington as I was unable to travel. Despite everything that was going on, I honestly think that was the best Christmas ever just because everyone I loved was there. 

The next six months were a little exhausting. Until the end of January, the only thing I did was sit around my house eating food and watching TV, and go to the doctor. Once per week I would have my routine doctor appointment which would usually take the majority of the day. It would start like a regular doctor appointment except is would be at the Mountain States Tumor Institute Pediatric Unit at St. Luke. I would check in at the front desk, wait a little while until the doctor could see me, and then talk with him for a half hour or so. Then I would go to the ‘lab’ and get the port in my chest accessed and get some blood draw for testing. Then if I didn’t have to have a spinal tap, about half of the time, I would go down to the hall to chemo suite where I would sit in a big leather chair for the next few hours while I got a number of different types of chemo. If I did have to have a spinal tap, after we met with the doctor instead of going to the chemo suite I would go across the street to the main building and up to the fourth floor where the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit) is. I would get settled into a room and there would be a nurse, an oncologist, and an anesthesiologist. They anesthesiologist would give me some medicine through my port that would put me to sleep for about an hour. Sometimes the doctor would actually let me give myself the medicine so that was always fun. It was actually kind of a nice feeling. For about a minute I would just feel all tingly like I was floating before I fell asleep. Then while I was out the oncologist would give me my Lumbar Puncture (LP), chemo into the spinal cord, and also the other chemo’s I would normally get in the chemo suite. Then I would wake up and eat a disgusting hospital lunch because before they let me go I would always have to eat a meal. Still not quite sure why they made me do that. Then I would dizzily walk out and my mom would drive me home as I was usually pretty woozy.

The last week of January was when the school semester ended. My teachers didn’t make me do any of the work for December and January which was nice but I had to start taking a few classes from home once the second semester started. The next month and a half went just about as planned until March when a mouthful of sores, side effects of the treatment, put me back in the hospital for ten days. The mouth sores were very inconvenient because the steroids they had me on were just kicking in and my appetite was bigger than ever, so that week I probably ate a month’s worth of chicken noodle soup. That week and a half was probably the most boring week and a half of my life and felt like a month.

Once June came, thing were as back to normal as I could hope for given the circumstances. I was feeling better, although I probably looked worse as by this point my hair was completely gone. I was still pretty weak but I was still able to enjoy my summer vacation. I played summer hockey to get back in the swing of it before the real season started in September, I took drivers ed, and I hung out with friends as often as I could. By August, my hair was back and I was going to school full time again. At this point, it would be hard to tell that I was even sick at all without asking.

The next two years I got used to going back to a somewhat normal lifestyle. I restarted school as a sophomore at Borah taking a full class load and playing on the hockey and golf teams for the next three years, despite have chemo three to five times per month, and popping a handful of pills every night. In March of my sophomore year, about a year after submitting my request, thanks to the Make-A-Wish foundation, my family and I got to go on the vacation of a lifetime. We went to Washington DC and got to meet the Washington Capitals hockey team. We went to two games and I got to skate with Alex Ovechkin and a few other Caps players. This part of the trip was featured by ESPN’s My Wish series and can be seen on YouTube. We also did many other fun things, such as tour the White House, visit the National Zoo, and see a bunch of museums. That was a week I will never forget.

I continued with my treatment for another year and, after nearly two and a half years, finished it in February of my junior year. Throughout the rest of high school I took some zero hour classes and by my senior year I was completely caught up on credits so I was able to graduate with my class, which was very important to me. I wrote about my experiences in a few scholarship essays and won a few, cutting my cost of college in half. 

The whole experience was in some ways a learning experience for me. It has taken me through many great things that I probably wouldn’t have ever known about had it not been for my having cancer. I has taught me to not take small things, like a normal everyday life for granted and I am thankful for that. After receiving my Make-A-Wish trip, I began to volunteer with the foundation regularly and that is something I still love to do today. In the past few years I have accumulated hundreds of hours volunteering between the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Idaho, and sharing my experience with other pediatric cancer patients I have come in contact with. I am now a freshman at BSU and in some ways I am exactly the person I was before all of this, and in some ways I am completely different. Having cancer doesn’t sound fun, and it definitely isn’t, but there are definitely some positives I can take out of it, and it is part of who I am today and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. 

 

I think for a teenager like me, the hardest part of going through something like cancer isn’t necessarily the illness but the social aspect that comes along with it. I think the hardest part for me was not having someone outside my direct family who knew exactly what I was going through, and in some ways that might be my fault. I was never shy about talking about any of it but I also wasn’t going to say much if you didn’t ask. So this is for anyone who is curious about what exactly it was like to learn that you have cancer, fight it, and beat it.

It came, we fought, I won:

A ride down the road of cancer through the eyes of a teenager.

By Sam Jacobson

I was always the type of kid who could come up with one of the coolest ideas but then be too scared to actually try something I was unsure about. I would be intrigued by anything that sounded hard, but probably just decide that it would be easier to just worry about it later. Pretty much, as a fifteen year old, I was exactly what you would see if you looked up ‘freshman in high school’ on Google. Until December 8 2010, when everything changed for the worst, or so I thought then. 

My freshman year in high school started just about the same as every other ninth graders’ at West Junior High school: bummed out that summer was over and school was back in session for the fall, staying busy with homework and sports, hockey and golf for me. I had so many different things going on that I was annoyed by the same silly things every other kid gets upset about, like not hanging out with friends on a Friday night because I had a game, or not being able to go to Jack In The Box to get a burger after school because my dad only gave me ten dollars which I probably spent on food and soda at school. Everything seemed so normal, like the only things I had to worry about were school and sports. That would change rather quickly over the next three months. 

For about the past six months, probably going back to February or March, I was experiencing an on and off cold. Although it wasn’t really a cold, just a bad cough. I didn’t feel sick, I just had an awful cough that I just couldn’t control. It almost felt like there was a rock inside my chest pushing against my lungs. I could feel the weight of it when I laid down and after some time it was making me cough almost constantly. I guess we just assumed that I had a cold that I couldn’t shake and my body was changing because of puberty. The cough got worse and worse though and around my birthday in November we went to the doctor. My doctor thought the cough was pretty bad but just some sort of virus. He gave me a prescription and told me to come back at the start of Christmas break to check in, so I wouldn’t have to miss school. Little did I know, school would be the last thing on my mind when Christmas break finally rolled around.

I went home from the doctor, went to hockey practice and probably did my homework that night and got up for school the next morning, no different than any other. By this point nearly any physical activity would wear me out much easier than it should have. I would be exhausted after just a shift or two of a hockey game, even things like walking up the stairs became a challenge. My cough got worse and worse and my mom was getting worried. We decided to go back to the doctor two weeks before we were supposed to. The doctor soon realized that we were dealing with more than just some sort of small virus. He told us to come back the next day to get a chest x-ray done. I went back to school that day for my afternoon classes. The next morning I went to my first two classes and then left before third period to go get my x-ray done and talk to the doctor. I remember the day like it was yesterday. 

My mom picked me up from school and even though we didn’t know anything for sure, she knew something wasn’t right, the mood in the car was quiet, almost suspenseful. We got to the doctors’ office and went back to the exam room where we met Dr. Rutheford for the second straight day. He too me across the hall to get an x-ray done. I was in there for probably fifteen minutes while the nurse took some pictures. Then I went back to the exam room to wait for the doctor. My dad had decided to come to this appointment so by then there were already three of us plus a nurse in the small ten by ten foot room when the doctor returned. The room was quiet when he came in. He had a file in his hand and he sat down and opened it up. I don’t think he actually read anything when he looked at it, but I think it made it easier for him to say what he had to say. I remember him telling us that it looked like something called Hodgkin’s disease. He based this on the x-ray that showed there was a tumor in my chest about three times bigger than my heart. At the time I had no idea what that was. He explained some stuff to my parents, none of which I understood. He told us that we could leave and to expect a phone call from him in a few hours. The three of us, me and my parents, left and ate lunch somewhere. After that we went into Golf Galaxy to look around for a little while as we waited to hear from the doctor. After a short while in the store my mom’s phone rang and we all rushed outside. She told me to go to the truck and answered the phone as I unwillingly walked away. I remember sitting in the back seat of my dad’s truck, looking out the window watching my mom talk on the phone. After a few seconds, I saw her collapse into my dad and they both started to cry. That was the most painful thing I have ever experienced, seeing them like that. That was the first and last time I had ever seen my dad cry. After a minute they were both back in the car and we were driving away. The only thing I remember from the car ride was my mom turning back to me and saying “So here’s the deal buddy, you have cancer.” From there on out, my life, in some ways, would always be changed. 

The rest of the afternoon continued as easily as you could hope for considering the current circumstance. The three of us got home, Jack, my brother, got home on his bike from school shortly after and my mom drove over to Horizon Elementary to pick up my little sister,

Kate. For the time being, we weren’t telling anybody what we knew, including my brother and sister. This afternoon was a very long one. Immediately, just about everything else became irrelevant, school, hockey, etc. Honestly, I don’t think I was ever very scared. Just curious about not knowing exactly what the next few months would look like. Although I would only have to wait until the next day to get a detailed treatment plan, explaining exactly what treatments I would receive over the next two and a half years. This would dictate practically all of my life for the next six months.

The next morning was interesting and difficult at the same time. I had to go to school for my first two classes, and let the rest of my teachers know that I would not be in class that afternoon. The last teacher I talked to was Mr. King. I had him for both third and fourth periods, AVID and physical science respectively. I walked into his classroom at break and caught him on his way out. I walked down the hall with him for a minute and explained that, once again, I would be missing class due to a doctor appointment. By this point he was getting worried and he asked me if everything was ok. Remembering what my parents said, I told him that I was fine, even though I knew I was scheduled for surgery in four hours and it would be months before I would actually be back to class. 

After break my mom came and picked me up from school and we made our way downtown to the hospital. The first place we went was to the fourth floor of the main building, the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. There we met with the surgeon who would be doing my procedures later that afternoon. Next we went back downstairs and began looking for the room where I was supposed to go before surgery.  The hospital was huge and I had no idea where anything was, a problem that I would overcome very quickly. After a little while we made our way around a few corners, past the gift shop and found the front desk to the surgery unit and checked in.

 We probably sat in the waiting room for at least an hour before the nurse came in and took me to the pre-op room. Once there I got dressed in the cliché robe and sat down in the bed. After a few minutes my parents came into the room along with the anesthesiologist. He explained to me what was going to happen and then we got started. He poked a needle into my forearm and hooked it up to an IV pole with all sorts of things hanging off of it. He gave me a mild anesthetic which didn’t put me to sleep, but just made me weak. I felt exhausted and tingly, like I was floating in clouds. It was actually a very nice feeling. I remember being wheeled out of the room and down the hallway to the operation room. There were bright lights on the ceiling and that was the last thing I remember. They did a number of things during the surgery. The first thing they did was they took a biopsy of a small tumor out of my neck, which was riddled with marble sized cancer balls. The next thing they did was put in my port. A port is just a small metal piece a little bigger than a quarter and about a centimeter deep. It goes just under the skin on my chest and has a small rubber hose that goes from the metal piece into an artery that comes out of my heart. The majority of my chemotherapy would be given to me through the port. A needle gets put into the port and the chemo is injected and circulated throughout my body in a matter of seconds. The last thing they did was give me my first of many Lumbar Punctures (LPs). A way of giving someone chemo into the spinal cord in their lower back. This is how they got treatment to my bone marrow and brain. 

Although it’s hard to remember any specific details from the surgery I do remember waking up. As soon as I woke up my parents and siblings were all in the room. I was dizzy and light headed and not too sure about what was going on. I remember trying to eat a Popsicle but I was so out of it I don’t think I could even get it to my mouth. By this time it was nearly six in the afternoon and it was time to go up a few stories to the fourth floor, the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). I would be stuck here for the next eight days. And that would probably be the longest, most boring week of my life. That week consisted of a constant flow of chemo, doctor checkups, and three awful hospital meals each day. 

I got to go home after a week which was nice because Christmas was just around the corner. I still had to go to the doctor at least once a week but I could deal with that. All of my dad’s family came to town from Oregon and Washington as I was unable to travel. Despite everything that was going on, I honestly think that was the best Christmas ever just because everyone I loved was there. 

The next six months were a little exhausting. Until the end of January, the only thing I did was sit around my house eating food and watching TV, and go to the doctor. Once per week I would have my routine doctor appointment which would usually take the majority of the day. It would start like a regular doctor appointment except is would be at the Mountain States Tumor Institute Pediatric Unit at St. Luke. I would check in at the front desk, wait a little while until the doctor could see me, and then talk with him for a half hour or so. Then I would go to the ‘lab’ and get the port in my chest accessed and get some blood draw for testing. Then if I didn’t have to have a spinal tap, about half of the time, I would go down to the hall to chemo suite where I would sit in a big leather chair for the next few hours while I got a number of different types of chemo. If I did have to have a spinal tap, after we met with the doctor instead of going to the chemo suite I would go across the street to the main building and up to the fourth floor where the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit) is. I would get settled into a room and there would be a nurse, an oncologist, and an anesthesiologist. They anesthesiologist would give me some medicine through my port that would put me to sleep for about an hour. Sometimes the doctor would actually let me give myself the medicine so that was always fun. It was actually kind of a nice feeling. For about a minute I would just feel all tingly like I was floating before I fell asleep. Then while I was out the oncologist would give me my Lumbar Puncture (LP), chemo into the spinal cord, and also the other chemo’s I would normally get in the chemo suite. Then I would wake up and eat a disgusting hospital lunch because before they let me go I would always have to eat a meal. Still not quite sure why they made me do that. Then I would dizzily walk out and my mom would drive me home as I was usually pretty woozy.

The last week of January was when the school semester ended. My teachers didn’t make me do any of the work for December and January which was nice but I had to start taking a few classes from home once the second semester started. The next month and a half went just about as planned until March when a mouthful of sores, side effects of the treatment, put me back in the hospital for ten days. The mouth sores were very inconvenient because the steroids they had me on were just kicking in and my appetite was bigger than ever, so that week I probably ate a month’s worth of chicken noodle soup. That week and a half was probably the most boring week and a half of my life and felt like a month.

Once June came, thing were as back to normal as I could hope for given the circumstances. I was feeling better, although I probably looked worse as by this point my hair was completely gone. I was still pretty weak but I was still able to enjoy my summer vacation. I played summer hockey to get back in the swing of it before the real season started in September, I took drivers ed, and I hung out with friends as often as I could. By August, my hair was back and I was going to school full time again. At this point, it would be hard to tell that I was even sick at all without asking.

The next two years I got used to going back to a somewhat normal lifestyle. I restarted school as a sophomore at Borah taking a full class load and playing on the hockey and golf teams for the next three years, despite have chemo three to five times per month, and popping a handful of pills every night. In March of my sophomore year, about a year after submitting my request, thanks to the Make-A-Wish foundation, my family and I got to go on the vacation of a lifetime. We went to Washington DC and got to meet the Washington Capitals hockey team. We went to two games and I got to skate with Alex Ovechkin and a few other Caps players. This part of the trip was featured by ESPN’s My Wish series and can be seen on YouTube. We also did many other fun things, such as tour the White House, visit the National Zoo, and see a bunch of museums. That was a week I will never forget.

I continued with my treatment for another year and, after nearly two and a half years, finished it in February of my junior year. Throughout the rest of high school I took some zero hour classes and by my senior year I was completely caught up on credits so I was able to graduate with my class, which was very important to me. I wrote about my experiences in a few scholarship essays and won a few, cutting my cost of college in half. 

The whole experience was in some ways a learning experience for me. It has taken me through many great things that I probably wouldn’t have ever known about had it not been for my having cancer. I has taught me to not take small things, like a normal everyday life for granted and I am thankful for that. After receiving my Make-A-Wish trip, I began to volunteer with the foundation regularly and that is something I still love to do today. In the past few years I have accumulated hundreds of hours volunteering between the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Idaho, and sharing my experience with other pediatric cancer patients I have come in contact with. I am now a freshman at BSU and in some ways I am exactly the person I was before all of this, and in some ways I am completely different. Having cancer doesn’t sound fun, and it definitely isn’t, but there are definitely some positives I can take out of it, and it is part of who I am today and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. 

 

 


© Copyright 2020 Sam Jacobson. All rights reserved.

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