Keep Breathing

With angst in their hearts, and tears in their eyes, they took a deep breath and just held it there. IT WAS ALL TOO SUFFOCATING! The storm had come.  In one demonstrous, tortuous swoop, the life they once known and now craved for was becoming a distant memory. Their thoughts were haphazard. Their cries were soft, but filled with excruciating pain and anger. The sanity and comfort of the mind was compromised instantaneously. Their breath had become entrapped by the empty promises that they once made to each other to be whole again. Their dreams were abandoned and replaced by the harsh reality of the present.

Less than 5 weeks post-transplant, the cancer was back. This time, with a relentless vengeance. Chances were slim to none. In a last ditch effort, a third-line chemotherapeutic agent was started to buy some time. No way was he going to make it out of this.

A year prior to this, everything was much more serene and simple. The family had just moved to America and had come with the hope of change and desire for a new norm. Their oldest son was eager to start the fifth grade in America. A few months after settling in, he started waking up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat. His body would burn and muscles would ache. At first, it was thought that this was “just the flu.” However, as days past, he started to lose weight. His energy began to decline and he started to stay home from school.

He soon ended up in the emergency room and found himself undergoing a myriad of tests and procedures. Eventually, the diagnosis was clear. 

He had an aggressive form of lymphoma. Slowly his smile started to fade, and his hair began to fall out in clumps. The days of designing science projects were replaced by chemo infusions and lab appointments. His parents began to take “shifts” at the hospital. One would stay home to take care of the other siblings, while the other would sit by his bedside. Family dinners, movie nights, and slumber parties were now just a figment of his imagination. The undercentity of impending doom dictated every single decision they took as a family. This WAS now their new norm.

After several weeks of intensive chemotherapy, it had become evident that the cancer was not going succumb. After much thought, the family and care team finally made the decision to proceed with a bone marrow transplant. The odds of it wiping out the cancer were stacked heavily against him. However, it was the only option at that time. After the first couple of weeks post-transplant, the news had come that there was no detectable cancer! However, this news would soon be tainted by the reality that the cancer was harsh and hiding in the crevices of his frail little body. The monster soon began to wreak havoc on his fragile body. In an effort to keep fighting, the decision was made to try another option.

This boy was not supposed to be alive. He was not supposed to make it past elementary school. However, he did! Now, it’s been over a year and there is no evidence of the cancer. The last ditch effort worked!

I had the pleasure of recently running into him. His hair is now plush and riddled with messy, adorable curls.  His smile is brighter than a thousand burning suns. The physical and emotional scars caused by the cancer are finally starting to fade bit by bit. I look at the backpack that is sitting next to him and see a giant book on scientific theory creeping out of it. I cuckle at the size of the thing. He intensely looks into my eyes and says, “I have to be a crazy awesome scientist when I grow up.”

When I grow up…GOSH, this seemed like such an impossibility a few months prior to this. However, now, it is becoming more and more of a reality. I ask how the family and boy have “kept their sanity and spirits up” over this whole treatment course., and to this Mom just says, “we just all kept breathing…” I guess, it’s true, All we can do is keep breathing!

“The storm is coming, but I don’t mind. People are dying, I close my blinds. All that I know is I’m breathing now. I want to change the world, instead I sleep. I want to believe in more than you and me. All that I know is that I’m breathing. All I can do is keep breathing. All we can do is keep breathing.” 


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Priyal Patel

More about Priyal Patel

Priyal Patel graduated from the Fairleigh Dickinson University-College at Florham with bachelors in biological sciences and minors in chemistry, lab sciences and anthropology. She then did her medical school studies at The New York Institute of Technology. She is currently in training for Pediatric Hematology/ Oncology.