Aref Abdala: Surviving Cancer as a Child

Growing up my father projected in me a sense of curiosity and imagination that always stuck with me. I had an enchantment towards puzzles, problem solving and riddles. I came to approach every obstacle in my life as a challenge I must overcome. It had just been my eighth birthday when I got diagnosed with stage four Ewing Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. At the time I didn’t think much of it as it was just another obstacle for me to complete. From the fear in my mother’s eyes I could tell that this was more serious than just another Rubik’s Cube puzzle.

The day I was diagnosed, my dad took my sister and I to our favorite restaurant. This always felt like a luxury since we always ordered more food than our bodies could muster. As we ate, my father’s eyes had a somber look. His voice was drowned out while he tried to explain to me the complexity of my situation. I tried to wrap my thoughts around what he was saying but the tears in my older sister’s eyes caught my attention. My dad explained to me what cancer was through a metaphor to help me understand; My body was a battle zone and cancer was the bad guy. He continued to explain chemotherapy as if they were the archers that send an array of arrows into the stomping grounds destroying units from both sides of the war. From there I went home to “train” for my first chemotherapy treatment.

It was unbearable. Every second was worse than the last. My life was filled with anger and resentment to the world. I did not know why this was happening. I just wanted to be a normal kid and ride my bike around the neighborhood. Most of all I wanted to stop being the bald kid with cancer. Through the support of my family, nurses, and doctors I conquered this new obstacle. I finally defeated cancer, I could finally go back to school and pursue my dreams of being a normal kid. My worst nightmare was finally over.

In the span of the next few years my cancer would come back two more times. This disease came back in the form of a tumor in my lung and then my brain. I was no longer angry or frustrated. I came to the realization that I could die at any moment. Why live your life full of anger at something you have no control over? Instead of mourning in my bed, I walked in and out of hospital bedrooms to talk to the other kids in an attempt to make new friends. Odds were that they were as lonely as me.

On the day before my eleventh birthday I had my final surgery to remove the malignant tumor that was growing along side my brain. This surgical operation left a scar that extends along the back of my head. I am no longer ashamed of the fact that I had cancer and I no longer hide my scars. I wear my scars proudly for they show my past, what I have been through, and what I can overcome.

Cancer took four years of my life. For four years I stared at the empty walls of my hospital room. Within those four years I have faced death and smiled back. Being diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma might have been the best thing that has ever happened to me. I have stopped believing in limitations, for what I have achieved exceeds all of them. Cancer has set many obstacles throughout my life, but without it I would not be the man I am today. Although this disease does not define me, the lessons I learned from it will have an influence in my life forever.

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