|Copyright 2011-2013 Terry O. Scott
On Both Sides of the Diagnosis, page 22:
Chapter 2: D-Day:
I: A Date which Will Live in Infamy
April 9th, 1990—a date which will live in infamy to me—I learned that cancer suddenly and deliberately
attacked my ability to function normally. It was a surprise attack.
I’ve used war references here because this day began the battle for my life. Since then, every year on April
9th, I feel depressed, nauseated, and stunned by a massive blow to the chest.
I delivered newspapers back in early 1990. In fair to good weather, I pulled the papers around my
neighborhood sidewalks in a little red wagon, and I carried the papers one at a time up to my customers’
front doorsteps. It was a piece of cake. I was in very good shape back then. Heck, I could run five miles
with relative ease; however, for weeks I had been growing more and more ill. By Saturday, April 7th, 1990, I
had to lie down on my customers’ lawns for fifteen minutes between every other house on my paper route in
order to catch my breath. My Saturday route normally took me forty minutes to complete. Yet, on this day,
it took me five hours.
I knew that I felt terrible. My mom knew something terrible had stricken me. My doctor had already seen me
four times in the past three weeks, yet none of us knew just how terrible my illness was. At first, my doctor
said I had the flu, then mono, and then the measles. But, I had nosebleeds that lasted for hours. I had
trouble catching my breath after walking to the bathroom. All over my body, I had come down with a rash of
tiny red dots. I now know these red dots as petechiae. They are caused by very tiny broken blood vessels.
That Saturday, my mom took me to see a new doctor at Detroit Medical Center (DMC) Urgent Care. There, I
met Dr. Sharon Tice, an angel put on Earth to do God’s work. The moment Dr. Tice laid eyes on me, she
pulled my mom aside and said, “Your son has leukemia, a cancer of the bone marrow, which spreads to the
blood and then to the rest of the body, and we need to get him to Detroit Children’s Hospital as soon as
possible.” The good doctor hadn’t even done a single test on me, and here I had been seeing another
physician for weeks and had many tests and misdiagnoses. I now know that this often happens to children
who eventually get diagnosed with cancer. After all, common symptoms of illness do not often get explained
by rare diseases such as childhood leukemia. However, Dr. Tice had experience with cancer. Over a ten-year
span, God had blessed her by bringing her into contact with three different families, in each of which a
member had cancer. Yes, I said “blessed” because those families have all become like parts of her extended
family. Strangely enough, a horrible thing like cancer can actually bring people much goodness, such as
lifelong friends and mentors.
Eventually, Dr. Tice drew some of my blood, tested it and confirmed her suspicions about me. Then, she told
me that I had leukemia.
II: What Is Leukemia?
Doctors classify leukemia as a cancer of the bone marrow, a tissue in the center of bones that produces
blood cells. Blood mainly consists of microscopic red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma.
Leukemia causes problems with blood cell production, such as causing a person’s white blood cells to multiply
out of control. White blood cells that multiply out of control are bad: They are cancerous. Normal white
blood cells travel around the body through the bloodstream and help the body fight infectious diseases and
foreign bodies. Thus, you need the right amount of normal white blood cells to keep healthy: too few normal
white blood cells and you cannot successfully fight off any bad things in your body, too many bad white
blood cells that are multiplying out of control and they will attack everything in your body.
III: Denial Day
At the time I was diagnosed, I had only ever heard of one person in the history of time who had cancer. You
might have heard of him: Brian Piccolo. He was a professional football player. A movie, named Brian’s Song,
was made about his fight with cancer. The film, in part, shows the great support Brian received from Gale
Sayers, Brian’s friend and teammate with the Chicago Bears. T is my Gale Sayers.
I knew that Brian died from his cancer, so when Dr. Tice told me that I had cancer, my heart sunk to the
floor. I thought she had either lied to me or she needed to go back to medical school and do some more
studying. I thought: I am a teenage athlete, a good student, and I happen to like going to church! Surely,
this lady is looking at somebody else’s test results.
D-day, in military terms, means the day an operation begins. We cancer patients, however, often know D-
day as diagnosis day, denial day, or deliver-me-anywhere-else-but-here day. Nothing you can do will prepare
you for this day—the day the floor drops out from under you, and everything in your whole world changes.
I heard a lot of talk that day about how medicine had advanced greatly in the past ten years, and how if I
survived the first month after diagnosis, then I would have a greater than fifty percent chance of surviving
the whole trial of cancer. Dr. Tice and the oncology doctors (cancer specialists) at Children’s Hospital
informed me that my white blood cell counts had become greater than 300,000 cells per drop of blood. A
normal person has between about 7,000 and 15,000 white blood cells per drop of blood. Therefore, I had
over twenty times the typical amount of white blood cells in my blood—mostly bad (cancerous) white blood
cells. If someone has too many bad white blood cells, then they begin to attack the person’s body much the
same way they attack diseases in a person’s body. Doctors told me that in the beginning we would all have
to wait and see if my kidneys could handle the burden of filtering out all of the bad stuff the leukemia cells
(the white blood cells) left in my body as chemotherapy killed them.
My parents and I listened to everything the doctors said. When I heard, “If you survive the first month,” I
thought, get out of my face. If I survive? What are you people talking about? You doctors are all idiots! I
am a freshman in high school. I have the world at my feet! This is all just a very bad dream.
IV: That’s Not Going to Be Me
In the waiting room, I saw bald kids smiling and surviving. But, that’s not going to be me, I told myself. I
can’t handle that lifestyle right now. I’m going to get quickly through this, leave this all behind, and get back
with my life the way it was.
I began to feel hot and nauseated. I became tachycardic—my heart pounded at an alarming rate. I fainted
while the doctors were trying to X-ray me. I don’t know if leukemia or emotions caused my blackout, but
blacking out actually helped me. It gave me a much needed break from reality.
V: Denial and Survival
If yourself, or a friend, or family member, gets diagnosed with cancer, then you can expect to experience
things similar to what I went through. Normally, cancer survivors do not see themselves as patients in the
beginning. They usually don’t accept the reality of their situation for up to twelve weeks into their therapy.
Denial can act as a survival mechanism and help patients get through the beginning phases of cancer
treatment, when their kidneys and other organs could fail. Now, I know in hindsight that my own anger and
denial provided me with strength in the beginning, when despair would have only done me harm.
If your friend or family member gets diagnosed with cancer, do not let it bother you if they act as if they don’
t need any help, or if they act as if they feel fine, or if they keep telling you that everything will return to
normal soon, or if they want you to back off. Don’t stress out about this. They will need you in the weeks
to come when reality hits them hard. It eventually will.
If your doctor has recently diagnosed you with cancer, and I have angered you by mentioning that soon
enough you will need people to help you, then good! You have responded well, and are dealing with your
situation great so far.