Tom, like many 17-year-olds, is a senior in high school, ready and excited to start his first year of college in September. Unlike many 17-year-olds, Tom was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, at the age of 11. Missing school, multiple surgeries, and facing the difficult decision whether or not to keep his leg were just a few of the challenges that he would face during his treatment.
Looking back, Tom has come to realize that he’s learned a lot over the past six years. If he could reach back out to his 11-year-old self, this is the advice he would give.
A Letter to My Past
I’m sure you don’t understand what is going on or the words you’re hearing from the doctors, but what it all means is that the next few years are going to be a long road filled with highs and lows.
The physical battle with cancer will be brutal, surgery and chemotherapy will bring lots of pain and sickness, and your battle with cancer will be a winding road with many bumps and potholes.
Cancer treatment and surgeries will result in long periods of time spent laying down and resting, the opposite of what an athlete like you wants. Chemotherapy has many side effects, the worst of which is pure fatigue after treatments. The time in between treatment is just enough to begin to regain some energy before repeating this cycle.
Remember all the people you meet and treasure the time you have with them. Value the relationships you have with those people, they will keep you motivated to continue exercising, graduate from high school, and even get accepted into college.
Know that there are always people eager to support you. Lean on your peers. The people you will meet are some of the greatest people in the world. After you’ve gone through your journey you will know what it means to lose someone you care about, and when you feel that, you will understand truly how much your friends mean to you.
Any efforts to save your foot are not worth your time, this is the most important thing I wish you had known. Massive, complicated surgeries aimed at saving a leg that had already been left useless by the tumor are not worth it.
Amputation will seem scary at first. It will take time to get used to waking up in the morning and trying to get out of bed only to realize you haven’t put your leg on. Just know that it will turn out to be a positive thing. After a few years of training and physical therapy, you will play sports with your friends again. Having a running blade will even help your athletic ability. I know you can barely move now, but you will play basketball, run, and be active again.
The journey with cancer will also shape your life in many ways you would never expect. One day you will be extremely grateful for the people that have had such a tremendous impact on your life. It is because of them that when you look back on this experience, you will not want to change what happened, because if you had never been diagnosed with cancer, you would never have met some of your best friends or gained the perspective to appreciate life in the face of great challenges.
So get ready, the next six years of your life are going to be harder than you can ever imagine but know that you will come out on the other side a stronger, more resilient, person with an appreciation for life many people will never understand.
Today, Tom supports other teens going through cancer with his participation in Children’s Cancer Association’s Young Adult Alliance (YAA). Together, these teens are sharing their experiences in a way that will improve the lives of teens and young adults just like them.