How it all began…
On July 29, 2014, when I was just 16, I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphyoblastic Leukemia at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. That same day, I received the first of over 1,000 doses of chemotherapy needed to save my life. During my 2 and 1/2 years of treatment, they successfully got me into remission where I remain. Once I’ve been in remission for 10 years I will be considered cured.
Here’s my story:
I was experiencing the best summer of my life in 2014. That June I went on a spiritual pilgrimage to Germany with my church youth group and traveled to Florida with my older sister, Skyler. In July, I toured colleges, hiked the hills of North Carolina, served as a counselor at Mud Camp, and rafted the level 5 Olympic Course on the Ocoee River. Sure, I had been tired, lost a little weight, and had a slight pain in my knuckles, but cancer? No way.
On the night I returned from the raft trip things began to change. The slight pain in my knuckles became massive throbbing in both hands. It was the worst pain I could ever imagine. I took some medicine and the pain was gone by the next morning. My Mom was concerned I might have arthritis so we went to the doctor and he decided to check my blood. A normal range for a white blood count is between 4,000 and 10,500. Mine was already at 350,000.
Within 24 hours, I went from a guy eating pizza and watching the sun set over the Mississippi River with a friend to a cancer patient receiving chemo in the ICU at St. Jude. My cancer was growing fast. There was no time to waste. Without the amazing advancements St. Jude has made since it first opened in 1962 in treating ALL, I wouldn’t be alive today.
Those first few months are a blur. The initial goal was to get me into remission. My medical team, led by Dr. Ching-Hon Pui, accomplished that within the first two months. I have had some really rough times, because of a lot side effects. One of the toughest challenges was the allergy I developed to the main drug I needed for cure. Dr. Pui decided to use an alternative drug at a dosage level and frequency that hadn’t been used before. I successfully endured 85 doses at a cost of almost $30k per dose totaling over $2.4 million. Soon after I finished that one chemo, we realized another one I was taking, a form of steroids, had caused Avascular Necrosis in my hips. They were basically dying inside. A doctor performed surgery on both hips successfully rebuilding them. Hopefully this will last a long time. There were many more challenges including ICU stays, septic shock, acute onset dementia, neuropathy in my lower legs, and constant viruses. So far my treatment has cost over $3,000,000. St. Jude saves all lives at any cost it takes with no cost to the families.
I took my last dose of chemo on February 27, 2017 with my family, friends, doctors, and nurses surrounding me. My “No Mo Chemo” party was one of the best days of my life.
Once chemo ended and my suppressed immune system began to reboot, my body quickly began to fight all the toxins left in me. The next several months were unexpectedly really tough. Many side effects continue now 2 years later. I live on with hormone deficiencies, challenges with toxicity from chemos, clinical depression, times of panic and anxiety, and survivor’s guilt. Still, I remain so grateful to be alive and live my days to their fullest.
Someone asked me once if I had ever wondered “Why me?” My family didn’t know it, but I had asked that to myself and God many times. About 10 months into this marathon of a journey in April 2015, I realized that I couldn’t just keep laying in the hospital bed getting chemo feeling so bad physically and mentally. I had met Rick Shadyac, ALSAC, CEO and asked him if we could talk. ALSAC is the fundraising organization for St. Jude. I had a business plan to create a fundraising group called Adam’s Army and wanted his advice. 90 minutes later, the plan to give back to the place that brought me back to life was launched. I committed to raising $100,000 as part of my Senior Independent Study at St. George’s Independent School. Many people got on board with my vision and became Adam’s Army. So far we have raised over $700,000! This year we plan to reach our ultimate goal of raising at least $1,000,000.
Adam’s Army is much bigger than I can keep up with by myself now. Many people are carrying the vision to a whole new level. We are raising money, but our primary goal is to raise awareness. Childhood cancer can and must end. Sadly, In 2016, I helped carry the coffin of my best patient friend at St. Jude. Carson Elizabeth Head was just 9 years old. I miss her so much. I have also said goodbye forever to my close friends Luis Aguilar and Hannah Tate. They no longer have voice, but we do. During treatment I watched my littlest friends struggle. They can’t tell you how terrible this disease is, but I can with your help. Together we are the “Voice for the Voiceless.”
I wasn’t afraid when I was diagnosed. Instead, I quickly learned how important it is to “MAKE EVERY DAY COUNT!” Every single one! Please join Adam’s Army so that we can give these childhood cancer patients, like myself, the chance to have enough days they can count to add up to a nice long lifetime.