“My Voice” by Eric North

Eric North - 'Survivor'

At 17, I was enrolled as a full time college student. My life was coming together. When I started to notice that I was short of breath, tired and just overall exhausted from doing normal activities. I woke up one morning and my throat hurt so bad that I couldn’t swallow anything. Ignoring all of these symptoms, I decided to go to my first day of college. The next morning I woke up and I could barely walk because of how weak I felt. So I went to see my family doctor. The doctor brought me directly back to the room and eventually told me that I had mono. She gave me a steroid shot and sent me home. I felt great! I could walk again! I didn’t feel weak. I fell asleep on the way home and woke up feeling even worse. The next day we went back to the doctor. Another steroid shot, but this time she took blood tests. I felt great again!! Once again I fell asleep and had to be helped inside the house and directly to the bed. Later that night my mom and older sister woke me up. I could tell that they had both been crying . This was the first time that I thought that this was a lot more serious than mono. To the hospital we went.

Arriving at the hospital I was numb. I wasn’t scared. I was numb. I felt too bad to be scared. I was taken to a room and the blood tests started. The nurse took my blood. Fifteen minutes later a doctor came in and took my blood. Fifteen minutes later a group of doctors and nurses came in and took my blood. They all had a look of disbelief as they took my blood and talked to me. I later found out that I had a white blood cell count of around 200,000. I was told that I was going to be admitted to the hospital and started on oral chemotherapy immediately. Then the oncologist would see me in the morning. I remember thinking that they were wrong. It wouldn’t be anything serious. It couldn’t be. Right? I’m only 17.

The next morning I remember eating breakfast and talking to my family when all of the sudden the oncologist opened the door. I froze. I remember not wanting to hear him. He sat in a chair and looked at me and said “Eric, I am 100% positive with what I am about to tell you. You have acute leukemia.” WHAT!! HOW!! WHY?! I immediately started crying and started saying over and over “I’m going to die, I’m going to die, I’m going to die!” Eventually I was calm enough for him to continue. The doctor then told me that the most common leukemia is Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia and that the 5 year survival rate could be as high as 85%. All of the sudden I felt like I AM GOING TO BEAT THIS!! I was told that I was going to be sent to Children’s Hospital immediately and be treated there. Next thing that I know I’m in the back of the ambulance on my way to Children’s Hospital. I had never been in the back of an ambulance before. This wouldn’t be my last trip in one.

Once we arrived at the hospital they rushed me into emergency and shortly thereafter to ICU. The doctors hooked a machine into my inner thigh to filter blood from my body. I was in and out of consciousness. I would be awake one minute aware of what was going on and the next minute I was out of it or sleeping. I woke up one time with a foot long tube hanging from my chest. They had inserted a double lumen broviac into my chest for all of the medicine to go through . I was started on chemotherapy immediately. I was in ICU for the first few weeks of my treatment. I had several close calls. At one time I had 90% liver failure. I was so jaundice that I looked like an orange. There were a couple times where the doctors told my mom that they weren’t sure if I was going to make it through the night because my body wasn’t responding to any of the medicine to help me. They even told her that she should start making arrangements . Over night I improved dramatically. I remember waking up and a man walked into my room and introduced himself. Then he went on to tell me that he was diagnosed with cancer at 17 and wasn’t given a very good chance to live. He lifted up his shirt to show me the scars he had from the several operations that he had. This man was the first SURVIVOR to reach out to me “Eric, I beat cancer and I know that you can too!! You don’t have to let it win! You can beat this just like I did!” It hit me! He was RIGHT! I’m going to fight this cancer and I WILL BEAT IT! This was the first time that I realized that I too could be a SURVIVOR!!

After recovering I was taken to the Oncology unit where the doctor explained that I actually had Acute Monocytic Leukemia and that my five year survival rate was about 30%. The doctor explained that treatment would last about a year and that 90% of it would be spent inside the hospital. Since I didn’t have a matching bone marrow donor in my immediate family, I wouldn’t be having a bone marrow transplant I would just be having several rounds of chemotherapy. The doctor explained to me that I may not be able to have kids after treatment due to the chemotherapy. I was ready to start my second round of chemotherapy. Three days later I ended up right back into ICU and was in just as bad of shape as I was with the first round. My hair was completely gone and I had lost about 30 pounds in a two week period. I had several complications, liver failure, trouble breathing, extremely low blood pressure, constant blood and platelet transfusions, all types of tests, spinal taps, bone marrow aspirations, arterial lines. After I completed my third round of chemo I didn’t get nearly as sick as I had in the past. The doctor told me that as soon as my numbers were high enough he was going to give me a couple day break to go home. I remember crying instantly. I was so excited. HOME!! It took about a week but my numbers were finally high enough to go home. I was ecstatic. I felt halfway “normal” again. The few days came and went VERY fast. Before I knew it, I was right back at Children’s Hospital.

Each round of chemo went a little better than the one before. I often ended up in ICU but the stays were shorter and not nearly as scary as in the beginning. I was starting to feel a lot better and my hair, eyelashes and eyebrows even grew back. The home visits started to come more frequently and I was really looking forward to the end of treatment. My last round of chemo was a bittersweet feeling. I remember being happy and excited to be done with treatment. But then again I was very nervous about the possibility of relapse. I knew that if I relapsed my chances of survival were even smaller than the 30%. After recovering from my final round of chemo I went home.

October of 2002 I completed my intense chemotherapy for Acute Monocytic Leukemia. I have not had any health problems since then. Now I am 25 years old. I have a successful business. I am engaged and have a 2 ½ year old son James. I felt blessed to find out that I could and was going to have a kid. The happiest day of my life was the day that my son was born. .

A person who continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship, or setbacks. This is the definition of SURVIVOR. The main feeling that come to me when I say I AM A SURVIVOR or hear the word SURVIVOR is pride. I’m proud that I was able to stand up to cancer and win the battle! I am proud of others for being SURVIVORS. I am proud of myself that I had the inner strength to be called a SURVIVOR! I am proud of my scars because they are proof of me becoming a SURVIVOR! I am proud to be united with so many other SURVIVORS! If there is one thing that all cancer patients have in common it is this. We all strive for one thing. To one day be called a SURVIVOR! I thank GOD for letting me be here today to be called a SURVIVOR!