Smiles Make the World Go Round
February 4th 2016- National Cancer Day
I am absolutely honored to be sharing with you a story that exudes strength and positivity. The first time I read the below words I had chills up my body, tears down my face and an extra shot of faith in my heart. I want to personally thank Brady Lucas for taking the time to share his journey. You are a true light in this world Brady and I am forever grateful that our paths crossed.
Smiles Make the World Go Round // By: Brady Lucas
Smiles are the most powerful thing on earth.
One thing I learned in life is to never stop smiling, no matter what obstacle you are given. On April 14, 2005 my world changed completely. Or did it? Flashback to March of 2005. I was a normal 8 year old boy. Living in York, Pennsylvania. I loved to play with my friends and play basketball, baseball, football, and golf whenever I got the chance. In addition, to all these things, all I did was smile. In this month, I started to come down with headaches to the point where I could not even sit in school. I went to the doctors many times before I was recommended to an ear nose and throat specialist. At this point I just wanted to find out what was wrong and move on with my life. I found out what was wrong alright. The complete blood count came back and read my white blood cell count was over 100,000 white blood cells per microliter. Normal white blood cell count is 4.5-10 white blood cells per microliter. NOT GOOD. The next day came. April 14, 2005. It was a beautiful spring day. My Mom, Dad, and I traveled to Hershey, PA. The “sweetest place on earth,” ya know? Except I was not going to get all the Hershey’s Chocolate, I was going to Hershey Medical Center. I walked in the place like a deer in the headlights. I had no idea what was about to happen. I only thought the best. After getting checked in and all the vitals done, we were placed in an examination room. Dr. John Neely came into the room. This doctor was a character. He always had some new form of a squirrel joke or a squirrel story every time I saw him. He was good at his job, making kids smile. After examining me he looked at my family and me and said “you have cancer.” Suddenly the room was quiet. Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia was my diagnosis. What in the world is this? I’m supposed to just be learning how to write in cursive and now I have this crazy 3 word disease. The medical language is intimidating. The only thing I ever heard associated with cancer was losing your hair. The next 23 days spent in the hospital were the start of a whole new chapter for my family’s life. 7253. This is the first room I stayed in. The chemotherapy started from day 1. In addition add some steroids with it. So here is the deal. Give steroids that have a side effect of extreme hunger and mix that with chemotherapy with the side effect of making you nauseous. The two do not mix well. You learn after a while to stay away from the fried food. It does not taste very well the second time.
The 23 days were spent with countless shots, IV’s, picc lines, pills, and medicine. I was officially in remission on April 29, 2005. Just 15 days after I was diagnosed, there were just a very small amount of leukemia cells in my body, if any. The idea with blood cancer is you’re not done there. Blood is obviously all throughout the body. Since blood cells are throughout the body, you cannot stop treatment right after the cancer is gone. You have to make sure it does not come back either. At the time I was diagnosed there was a 80-85% chance I would get cured and the cancer would never come back. My treatment went from April 14, 2005 to July 28, 2008, with chemotherapy EVERY SINGLE DAY. There was not a day during these 3 years, 2 months, and 2 weeks that I was not on chemo in some way. This could be pill or IV form.
First of all, no matter what the rankings say, Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital has the best staff of any hospital in the world. I truly mean it. They are all amazing. The pediatric oncology unit at the time was confined to the West hall on the 7th floor. That is it. It has been amazing to see what the hospital has become. Back to treatment. Those years were some of the best/ worst times of my life. I got to meet Penn State football players, including Sean Lee. Sean Lee is the nicest guy in the world. I also got to meet Antawn Jamison at a Washington Wizards game. In addition to that, I got the chance to meet Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. AKA my favorite football team. What a cool experience Make-A-Wish gave me. It was all amazing. Most importantly I grew a special bond with Penn State. More on that later.
All this comes with a price. Countless hours in the hospital infusion room getting blood, platelets, and chemo. Shots in your thigh muscles that cause more pain that anything. Not getting to live a normal childhood with my friends….. That was the hardest. You do not realize how much school plays a social impact in your life until you can’t go. I missed the rest of my school year 3rd grade year (year I was diagnosed). Missed 90 days my 4th grade year and about another 40-50 5th grade year. That is a lot of school missed. Although I was not in school, I loved doing the school work. School has always been a passion to me. I enjoy the thrill of learning. After treatment was over, everything was great. The only problem really was that I was diagnosed with hypersplenism (enlarged spleen) and liver fibrosis. We figured these would really play no part in my life since it they were not huge side effects. They could have always been worse. They happened to play a huge role.
Ninth grade year came, 1st year of high school. I had a wide range of emotions. I was the smallest one at the school. I did have the advantage of knowing all the seniors and juniors because my brother Ryan was a junior at the time. It was not as scary to me. I loved high school. I just started to get into the groove of things when middle of September came. I am an avid golfer. I love the sport. If I am not playing, the Golf Channel is on my TV. I was fortunate enough to make the varsity golf team as a freshman, which was a true honor. I actually got to play in my first varsity golf match on September 14, 2010. I was playing pretty decent until the last hole came. Hit a decent drive and then managed to hit the club house like 2 times and another 2 balls in the water. Nice choke Brady. Ended up with a 13 on the last hole, but I still managed to smile about it. Always smile. The whole golf team was sick. My immune system still was not the best so I was trying to figure out how I was the only one on the team who was not sick. Well I got sick alright.
As the week went on started to feel worse and worse. Sunday came. My shoulder had a sharp pain in it. We texted my doctor. Dr. Comito is an amazing women. I did not get the chance to talk about her yet. She was officially my doctor after I was diagnosed. Dr. Comito told my Mom to bring me up to the med center to get checked out. About 6 hours into sitting in the ER, the ER attending physician walked in and said your oncologist is coming. I was excited, getting to see my doctor and say hi to her. I always love the chance to see her. She walked in with a weird look on her face. I was confused. I just knew it was not a good look. I am 14 at this time. She looked at me and said, “I don’t know how to say this any other way, but your cancer came back.” A shock ran through the room. What was going on? I must be dreaming. Except I was not. The leukemia had come back. Why me? Not a question I ever asked. I simply asked what do I have to do to beat it again? I was officially diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia again on September 20, 2010. 7253. Sound familiar? I was now 5 years later in the same room I started out. Next walked in nurse Kami, my first ever nurse. Can this get any weirder? Yeah it can. So the last time my oncologist, Dr. Comito, was on call for 2 weeks in a row was April 14, 2005. Guess when the next time was? September 20, 2010. If that isn’t weird I do not know what is.
Every time I hear the song Wake Me Up When September Ends I think of the cancer relapse. The chemo started immediately. I was in remission again within a couple weeks. GREAT! The next thing was what to do next? Dr. Comito called all over the country to try and find out what to do about my relapse and how to treat it. You know that liver fibrosis and hypersplenism thing we talked about not being bad? Well yeah, now it played a serious role. The chemo damaged my liver from the first round of treatments to the point why cure the cancer if my liver fails and I need a liver transplant anyways. So there were 3 options my doctor came up. Option 1: Chemo again but your liver may fail. Option 2: Bone marrow Transplant. The idea with this is you need a match though. Option 3: Nothing. I was in remission already so just see if it does not come back. We ended up choosing option 2. It was not an easy process to get there. So as I said with a Bone Marrow Transplant you need a match. The best way to get a match is from siblings. Since siblings can share the same DNA from both parents, you have a better chance of matching. My older brother Ryan had a 25% chance of being a match and younger brother Shaun also had a 25% chance of being a match. I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was sitting in my hospital bed when Dr. Comito knocked and walked in with a huge smile on her face. Handed me a paper with a bunch of numbers but then said your brother Shaun is a perfect match for a Bone Marrow Transplant. What amazing words to hear. I started crying sitting there. We decided to do the Bone Marrow Transplant but here was the catch. Because of my liver disease we could not do a normal childhood BMT. We had to cut out the radiation. Normally with childhood cancer bone marrow transplants there are 2 days of radiation, 4 days of chemo, a day of rest, and then transplant day. We had to cut out the radiation to make sure I would get through the transplant without dying. February 2, 2011 was transplant day. My little brother, who was 10 at the time, saved my life. My hero. Go back to your 10 year old self and imagine if you got the chance to save your brother’s life. Pretty amazing isn’t it?
The transplant went well and everything was going in the right direction. In June of 2011, I got this thing called graph versus host disease. So in a normal organ transplant the body has to accept the organ. In this case, the blood has to accept the body. Since the blood was foreign to the body, it was fighting off inside. This meant the transplant was working. The transplant knocks your cells down to nothing, infuses you with bone marrow and then hopefully the bone marrow starts creating only healthy cells. Graph versus host disease is only good if it stays contained. Mine stayed contained, so it was good. Although I had to spend my whole summer going into my sophomore year of high school giving myself shots and IV medicines, it worked. Life started to get back to normal. I went back to playing golf and being the crazy nut ball that I was. I enjoyed my high school years a lot. My friends and I spent many hours at all sporting events decked out in our morphsuits and costumes. Then college time came. What school do I want to go to? It was an obvious choice, but why? During my whole treatment of cancer my family never saw a bill. Literally not a single bill. I have great insurance but insurance does not cover clinical trials or all the copays for medicines. My family also always had something to eat. We did not pay for that though. There is this organization called Four Diamonds. The Four Diamonds is an organization that picks up any hospital bill insurance does not pick up. It also pays for gas cards, meal vouchers, rooms for parents, literally anything that makes a parent only have to focus on their children getting better. In addition, it provides an amazing staff and research team only dealing with pediatric cancer. This fund is exclusive to Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. Penn State runs an event every year called THON. Penn State IFC/ Panhellenic Dance Marathon to be exact. THON is the largest student run philanthropy in the world. 15,000 student volunteers fundraise and work all year to put together a no sitting, no sleeping dance marathon that occurs in mid-February. THON raises money for Four Diamonds. THON does this cool thing where they have a program that allows Greek, Special Interest, and Club organizations to adopt a Four Diamonds family if they would like. I was lucky enough to be adopted by the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity for THON 2012. They treated me like their own from day 1. The brotherhood always had my family’s best interest. The Pennsylvania State University is the only school in the country that someone can attend that is also the school that saved their lives.
Penn State saved my life. THON saved my life. Now you all know why it was a no brainer decision to come to Penn State. Fall semester started and everything was awesome. I consider my life a full circle in wanting to give back. Step 1 get to Penn State as a student. Checked off. Step 2, join Phi Kappa Sigma. I joined in the fall of 2014. Check. Step 3: Become the THON Chair for Phi Kappa Sigma. Check. Finally Step 4, be selected to dance for 46 hours in THON 2016. Check… Amazing feeling. There are only 708 dancers this year in THON. I am one of the lucky ones to have the chance to dance this year. Dancing 46 hours all for the kids. All to give back to the kids that I once was. Also for the kids who unfortunately did not make it.
Now we go back to the title of this blog. Smiles Make The World Go Round. Through this whole experience I never stopped smiling. I knew I had to smile because so many people gave up so much in their lives to give me the greatest gift in the world, life. I smile because of Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. I smile because one day no child will have to deal with cancer. I smile because of The Pennsylvania State University. I smile because life is beautiful in every way. I smile because of the amazing things THON does every day. I smile because I have the most amazing family and friends in the world. I smile because I get to stand with some of my best friends for 46 hours on February 19-21, 2016. I smile because I was given cancer instead of another child having to go through it. I smile because my little brother did the most amazing thing in the world by donating his bone marrow and saving my life. I smile because I have the best support system anyone could ever ask. I smile because I live. Finally, I smile because Smiles Make the World Go Round. I ask everyone on World Cancer Day to simply smile. You never know how much a smile can change a life. Use the hashtag #SmilesMakeTheWorldGoRound.
Thank you all for everything and reading. If you have any questions do not be afraid to contact me on social media. One last thing, WE ARE… PENN STATE.
For more information about THON go to thon.org