Leukemia is a disease I seldom hear of anymore.
There are a number of other cancers still talked about, but I haven’t heard the word leukemia as much as it once was. Has it been given another name? Is it still the number one cancer in children?
The answer to that is yes and no it has not been given another name, at least not according to NCI. Leukemia is still number one in addition to its variations, followed by brain cancer. See link for others listed.
When I was young, I never completely grasped what it meant. Polio was the big thing when I was growing up. In our day we were given live polio vaccines and invariably one of my classmates would succumb to this horrible debilitating disease in varying degrees. My friend Gloria’s little sister was confined to a wheelchair. She died at an early age, but still managed to have a somewhat fulfilling life, got married and held down a job. My friend Sally was another, she wore braces on her legs and used crutches most of the time. As she got older, she could sometimes go without. It always amazed me at fast she could move, stiff legged and all. Then there was Leon, a boy I dated at one time whose only sign of it was poor posture.
As I got older every now and again I’d hear the word “leukemia” spoken in hushed tones when someone’s child or a relative had come down with it, but it was usually done so furtively as not to frighten us, I guess. At times I wished I could come down with this mysterious illness or something like it so that I could be fawned over but I never did. Little did I know.
My first experience with it was when a very dear friend of my daughter was stricken with leukemia.
I was working at the junior high school my daughter and her friends attended at the time. I met Michael earlier on or at least before I was assigned to work with him. Michael was actually my daughter’s best friend’s boyfriend but he became her best friend as well. Michael was also the most popular boy in school. This kid was friendly, smart and cute to boot. Everyone loved him. That was in 7th grade.
I always thought it odd that her best friend’s boyfriend called our home as often as he did, but she insisted there was nothing to it. What was odder still was that it didn’t matter if my daughter was or wasn’t around because he was just as happy to just chat with me. We talked about so many things. It tickled me. He already knew what he was going to do with his life and was so full of energy and promise.
My job at the school was to tutor kids who were seriously ill and had missed a great deal of school because of treatments, doctor appointments and such. I kept them up with their studies. So, you can imagine my shock when his name came across my desk at the beginning of the next year. I’d not heard he was ill. I was told he’d gone away for the summer with his family. Apparently, I was misinformed.
I don’t know when he first received the diagnosis but that summer, at 13, his chemo was started. He came in late the following school year. When he first showed up back to school, he was wearing a wig as was commonly done in those days. He walked through the halls keeping his head low and avoided all his friends. As much as he liked me, he didn’t want to be treated special and refused my help with his studies. He kept up fine though. He made it clear he didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for him and because of that he avoided eye contact. He broke off with his friends at first and pretty much kept to himself. As his health improved at the end of the school year, he looked so much better. When he learned his leukemia had gone into remission and as his hair had grown out we were starting to see a glimmer of his old self starting to get back into the groove of being himself. He let his friends back in and we began to talk again, but never as before. It was obvious he was still considerably more subdued and the sparkle that was Michael didn’t shine as bright, but there was hope and he perked up.
Too soon it came and went. Sadly, by the end of summer he died. His mom, God bless her, knew we were pals and gave us a call. We and the whole school were devastated. She’d not known how much time, he and I had talked on the phone before he was ill, only that he was friends with Tina. I would have some lovely conversations with his mom as I shared with her our little chats. In the end, we laughed some and we would cry more.
Over the years, I lost track of his family so I don’t have a picture of him.
As kids do, they move on and most would eventually forget this young man who once lead the pack, made them laugh and made them cry. That was nearly 40 years ago, yet some of us didn’t forget. Every now and then Tina and I remember.
It’s funny how some kids, some people for that matter, can leave their mark on you in just a short amount of time. I would have loved to have seen him grow up to be the man I know he would have been, yet of all of Tina’s classmates, I followed none and barely remember a few. Except for Michael.