On Saturday, June 17, 1995, I had just returned from an up & down week at South Carolina’s Palmetto Boys State, sponsored by the American Legion. It was up & down due to the weird things going on with my body that just didn’t seem normal-night sweats, back pains, inability to use the bathroom at times, throwing up after I ate, & being really tired participating in sports activities throughout the week.
I vaguely remember explaining to my mother, an ER nurse of a decade or more, my symptoms on the ride home to Prosperity, SC. As soon as I got home, I remember still being excited to head out on Lake Murray for a day of water skiing, cooking out, and just being on the lake. Back then I was in shape and had pretty hard stomach muscles, so like any dumb teenager, I didnt mind having those muscles tested with a gut shot, or punch. My aunt was at our house that day when we got home en route to the lake and unfortunately for her she was the one that played around with me to provide that gut shot to the stomach…I can never forget that punch. It wasn’t because she really hit me hard or hit me when I wasnt expecting it. It was because when she did playfully hit me, it almost caused me to fall down and start throwing up it hurt so bad.
Twenty-one (21) years ago as I sit here typing this, I can still see the scene:
I was standing right outside the white linoleum kitchen flooring, on the light brown carpeting in front of my mother’s decorative bench that sat under the four pane, mirrored decorative piece hanging above it. I was facing towards the side door that lead to the garage and Aunt Mary Kay was bouncing around playfully like a boxer, but unlike a real boxer, she was wearing a black bathing suit with white highlights, while our kitchen table was to my left. She playfully struck with her left hand and then more sternly with her right hand. Now I recognize the awkward looks between the parental figures, after seeing my animated reaction to such a light & playful interaction.
My mother decided to let the rest of the family head on to the lake but maybe my complaints of fatigue should just be checked out real quick at the hospital where she worked, Lexington Medical Center. She drove her gray, Mazda 626 with gray cloth seats on a bright, sunny day towards Columbia and tried to console me that this was no big deal, I was fine. ( I realize now she was really trying to calm herself down-she later revealed to me she thought I had mono.)
When we got to the hospital, we were provided professional courtesies for her many years working in the ER and I went straight back to a private waiting area. A nice phlebotomist, a heavier, set black male, who apparently had won the respect of my mother as a “1 sticker” drew blood for lab work. (I write this narrative for medicinal value so I can help open long vaulted compartments in my psyche, so no wonder I am having some manifestations of those emotions right now as I type, aka crying.).
I didnt realize what was going on at the time but I did recognize my mother’s voice in what seemed to turn from surprise, then to aggressiveness in demanding tests be run again as she talked with her colleagues at a nearby nurses station. The phlebotomist came in again and drew more blood work and did so calm as a cucumber indicating another test needed to be run. Shortly thereafter is the scream I can hardly forget from my mother and then her wailing. I started to get nervous at that point as my mother was a pretty stern lady, that showed emotion when needed but to cry openly in her comfort zone and in front of her colleagues kind of scared me. That was not normal & apparently as time would tell, neither was my blood work. My white blood cell count was over 150,000 with normal ranging from 3,500-10,500.
My private waiting area was quickly transformed as I was asked to go change into a gown all the while not knowing what was going on. That was the part I hated the most looking back. Nobody would tell me what was going on. I was no idiot and at the very least, knew if my lake day was about to be ruined and my mother was screaming, something had to be wrong. Plus,I was the only one getting medical work performed upon.
As I got my own private room at this point, I will ever forget that coy, son of bitch, white haired doctor whose name started with an “M”. He acted like I was interrupting his day, laughed and was joking around. Again, I still had not clue what was going on. He indicated he just had to take a sample real quick. Then he proceeded to take a bone marrow aspiration from me without any anesthesia other than some lidocaine to the skin. That extraction device he screwed into my hip is probably not nearly as medieval as I remember but I will never forget him stopping in the middle of screwing that device into my hip bone & saying, “Son, you have some strong bones.” Then he proceeded to twist harder into my hip. To this day it is the worst pain I have ever felt in my life.
Fittingly, understandably, and realistically, that is where my memories of today, 21 years ago stop. I was ultimately diagnosed with Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), and later told of my two week prognosis. I remember snipets of the days and weeks that followed. More importantly, I remember the love and outpouring support from my family, friends, my church, and my community. I will forever be indebted to them all.
God is good, life is good, and we can only make the most with what we are given. I hope you all take advantage of the opportunities and wonders given to you every day. Now you know why I say:
I AM LIVING THE DREAM!