Brian Appel, 29
Being given a twenty percent chance to live, or being told that, if you live you may never walk again, is terrifying. At the age of eight, I was diagnosed with stage IV Burkitt’s Lymphoma and had to stare cancer in the face. I went from being a kid to an adult overnight. Tumors eroded the bones in my sinus cavity, penetrated my skull, covered my spine and compressed my spinal column while my bone marrow was full of cancer cells. In an instant, my life changed forever.
Cohen Children’s Medical Center became my new home. I endured countless procedures – CT scans, MRIs, transfusions, radiation and high dosages of chemotherapy – all in an attempt to keep me alive. The nurses became my extended family and I learned to live and make friends on the pediatric oncology unit. It was the rollercoaster ride of a lifetime but, with the support of family and friends, time passed. Slowly my prognosis changed from “guarded” and “poor” to cautiously optimistic. Whether I was admitted to the oncology unit for a week or just visiting the clinic daily, Cohen’s felt like a safe place to be. The care I received was extraordinary, from the doctors to the nurses and volunteers. I left the hospital five months later, still a silly kid, but much older and wiser inside.
If I have learned anything from my experience as a pediatric survivor, it would be that children need to be given more credit for their strength and fortitude when faced with adversity. While some strength is inherent within each child, a lot of perseverance and drive comes from their support system. As I have created a family of my own, I now realize that it wasn’t just my strength or directed therapy that beat cancer, but it was the collective strength of my family. A parent sometimes needs to be a punching bag, a tissue, a helping hand or simply just a presence. Children will bounce back and go through treatment with a smile on their face as long as they are given the tools and support to succeed, and all of that starts with the family. I was fortunate enough to have a great family that tried to keep life as normal as possible while it was anything but that. I truly believe half the battle is with your state of mind. Learn to laugh and cry and sometimes both at the same time.
Today I am a 28-year-old cancer free father and husband! I graduated from college with honors and finished valedictorian from Radiology School. I am currently working at a local community hospital and love to spend my free time in the gym and with my wife and son. I currently follow up on my remission with the Survivors Facing Forward program at Cohen Children’s Medical Center. It gives me the peace of mind that I will be followed well into my adult life to ensure that things stay on track and that I will be around for my family. This February, I will be celebrating my 20th year cancer free and cannot wait to make it twenty more.