I grew up on the North Shore of Oahu, surf central, so to say the least I was a very active child. I was always in the ocean, surfing, swimming, cave diving. I had a love for the mountains and horses; hiking to waterfalls and getting lost with friends on our ponies in the jungle were some of my favorite activities. After graduating from high school in 2014, I decided to take a year off and continue to work and save money. After my 18th birthday on June 30th, I started to have knee pains, I ignored it, figuring I had pulled a muscle or some ligaments since I was very active, I was still able to walk and work so it didn’t concern me. Though as months pass, I noticed the pain was only increasing and so was the size of my knee. In the beginning of October my boyfriend convinced me it was time to see a doctor, as I was constantly complaining of knee pain. My doctor said it seemed perfectly normal from the outside. So I was sent to do an X-ray which showed nothing, then an MRI which lead to a CT and bone density scan. Finally we were able to see that something was there, and it wasn’t good. I was then sent to a bone specialist who preformed a biopsy, within 10 minutes after the biopsy they were able to confirm that it was cancer, osteosarcoma bone cancer. A cancer that normally happens in childhood or when you’re a young adult.
My cancer was located in my left distal femur, I common place where osteosarcoma likes to attack. By the middle of October my knee was so swollen and achy that I could no longer walk on it. It was stuck, bent at a 50 degree angel, from October till the time I had knee surgery in December.
It was shocking of course, no one ever expects a little knee injury to actually be something as serious as bone cancer. Though because my cancer was in my leg it helped me to feel as though it wasn’t cancer at all, I thought of this situation as though I just needed a knee replacement, not that I was a cancer patient, which I was for a good 9 months or so.
Immediately after my biopsy I was forced to do chemotherapy, which included three different types of chemo, methotrexate, doxorubicin, and cisplatin. I had to stay in the hospital from the time the chemo was administered to my body till I had peed most of it out and my level of toxins in my blood were lower than 0.01. This meant that I was in the hospital for at least 3 nights, about 2 times every month. This was the hardest part of this cancer journey for me.
I was put in a child cancer unit, I was the oldest patient they had at the time. Being around toddlers and children going through cancer was heartbreaking, I had a hard time going to places in the unit such as the “playroom” because I couldn’t bare to see babies having to do such terrible chemicals. I knew how chemo made me feel and I would never want another child to have to go through that, though this thought also helped me through chemotherapy. Since osteosarcoma is so rare and mostly happens to children, I thought it was better for me to have to go through it than a 10 year old. I know that part of the reason why I got this cancer was because I could handle it.
On December 30th I had a total knee replacement and femur rod surgery. I was excited, this meant I wouldn’t need crutches, no more knee pain and ultimately a new leg and a new life. My surgery went amazingly well; it was thought to be a 6 hour surgery but ended up only taking 5, they didn’t need to take as much muscle as they thought they would and I had a 98% kill (kill means cancer cells that are dead) and all clear margins (margins are the bone/muscle around the affected bone, they take samples from these areas once they have removed the affected bone and test them for cancer growth). From this day forward I said I was cancer free, which is still true and will always be.
I was given two weeks off and then was back in the hospital for more chemo, this time it would be 6 more months of precautionary chemotherapy. I learned to deal with the hospital, though it was and still is a place I dread. The thing I didn’t like most about being in the hospital was that I couldn’t go outside, there was no fresh air, no nature, nothing that I loved was anywhere near the hospital. So I turned to my creativity to take me away, I drew and painted and listened to music all day, I stopped watching tv and took lots of walks around the hospital, anywhere I was allowed, I would go. This helped me immensely, instead of being stuck in my bed all day I was out and about or creating things, even if I still stuck in one of the worst places ever. My mood improved so much; becoming creative again saved my brain from becoming groggy or as they call it “chemo brain”.
During this time of recovery I learned a lot about myself, how strong I really was but also how weak I was. Before I got cancer I was extremely mean and judgmental to myself, I hated nearly everything about me. It wasn’t until I got cancer that I realized I couldn’t go on like this, that if I continued to hate myself, it would only make matters worse. So I began to discovery what it was like to love yourself. Through self love I was able to see and recognize that I also had problems controlling my emotions and taking things for granted. I learned that happiness is a choice, all of our emotions are, you have to see the bigger picture and understand that your circumstances could be far worse and that in the bigger scheme of things, your life is actually wonderful and can be anything you want it to be. If I wanted to be in a bad mood I would have a bad day, if I wanted to be in a good mood I would have a great day, it was as simple as that; by being responsible and taking control over my emotions I was able to see how easy it was and how wonderful the results were, this was easy to understand and track as every day in the hospital seems like a ground hog day. I also realized how amazing my life was and is, I lived in one of the most beautiful places in the world and here I was wishing I could be anywhere else. I began to look out the window on my drive down to the hospital, appreciating the beauty of my home and taking every gorgeous sight in as I wouldn’t be able to see it for another 4 days. I learned about gratitude, to be thankful for the present moment and the fact that you are alive.
Currently I’m cancer free and getting back to normal life. I continue to ride horses and be very active. I’m more in love with ocean and the mountains than ever before. This cancer journey, it has shed light on so many aspects of my life that needed to be fixed. Cancer has taught me so much and I am so grateful.