Saturday, February 14, 2009

Refuse to Lose

The other night I watched on TV the Vietnam war movie "Hamburger Hill". It is the true story about a battle that did not go well for the Americans. Our troops were completely out numbered and surrounded, with nowhere to run or hide. Soon the enemy had broken through the perimeter and it was down to hand-to-hand combat. In a last ditch effort to save the day, the American commander radioed for the planes to start bombing inside the interior, including dropping bombs even our own command center. Many Americans, along with the enemy would be killed. But hopefully, when the smoke cleared, enough Americans would be alive to hold the ground.

That is a very accurate description of chemotherapy. Attack the body to the core. Napalm it with everything you've got. Saturate the entire body with this poison. Chemo does not "heal" anything. It kills everything it touches. Theoretically, the fastest growing cells should die first. Therefore the faster growing cells of cancer should die first. Unfortunately chemo has the same effect on all fast growing cells such as hair, skin, finger and toe nails, stomach, esophagus, brain, heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. But hopefully, when the smoke all clears, the cancer cells are dead and there are still enough healthy cells remaining to keep the body alive.

Once you understand this, it is easier to understand why chemo has such damaging long term effects on the growing bodies of kids, and especially adolescents. If you think it sounds insane to heal a child by killing them slowly, you are right. And nothing I say could ever accurately describe what it is really like to witness it. Unfortunately the ugly truth is that there are few other viable options for most childhood cancers. Until alternative research is funded, our children are given two options: Do this, or die.

Cyclophosphamide is a chemo drug with a very ugly side effect called V.O.D. In everyday terms, V.O.D. is liver failure. It was this time last year that our 15 year old friend Rob Kemp lost his 7 year battle with cancer as a result of V.O.D. from Cyclophosphamide. You can read Rob's story here.

Our good friend Ryan Salmons is fighting hard. He has an unbeatable strength and an unbeatable spirit. He is between chemo treatments, and was invited by the Chris and Stephanie Speilman Foundation to go on the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer. Unfortunately he was pulled off the ship in Orlando. He has gone into liver failure, V.O.D. as a result of the Cyclophosphamide. Ryan is now back at Children's.

Just like Tyler, Ryan is a athlete and a fighter. Ryan's dad is a fighter. His "refuse to lose" attitude glows in his eyes and radiates in his smile. He will not lose. He will continue to fight. And, just like the Americans on Hamburger Hill, his long ugly battle will end in victory. Because, you see, whenever Ryan fights, he always fights to win.

Maybe tonight, or maybe tomorrow,
I'll win this fight, so bury your sorrow.
I'm still alive, still holding on.
Refusing to die, I live strong.
--Wideawake

I have cancer, but cancer does not have me.
--Eric Shanteau, 2008 U.S. Olympic Swimmer

The truth is, if you asked me to choose between winning the Tour de France and cancer, I would choose cancer. Odd as it sounds, I would rather have the title of cancer survivor than winner of the Tour, because of what it has done for me as a human being, a man, a husband, a son and a father.
--Lance Armstrong

Cancer-I intend not only to beat you, But to better the lives of everyone I can: By loving them, encouraging them, giving them information, making them laugh, praying for them and by any other means I can. Cancer, you are not the end. You are merely my opportunity to serve others, and perhaps my only chance to attain at least some small measure of heroism.
Mark Hartwig

During chemo, you're more tired than you've ever been. It's like a cloud passing over the sun, and suddenly you're out. You don't know how you'll answer the door when your groceries are delivered. But you also find that you're stronger than you've ever been. You're clear. Your mortality is at optimal distance, not up so close that it obscures everything else, but close enough to give you depth perception. Previously, it has taken you weeks, months, or years to discover the meaning of an experience. Now it's instantaneous.
--Melissa Bank

In the hospital parking lot I feel this wild compulsion to just run away from the hospital. Just start running. There are these woods nearby, I'd go there first, and then...I don't know, try and hitch a ride far away to some small town in Iowa, keep a low profile and live off the land.
--Miles Levin

I remember my first chemo round, staring at the ceiling and trying not to cry. The agony was stunning. I've long since learned to go ahead and cry. How could this have happened? Yet as with anything that happens, it happens, and then suddenly you find it has happened, and more things keep continuing to happen. Chemotherapy has instilled in me a visceral understanding that all bad things will pass in time ... but that all good things will too.
--Miles Levin

Ryan Salmons

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