My life as and Echo

by Joe Fedele

Basketball season was beginning, I missed the last half of the previous season after fracturing my elbow, but the time I did play I started as a junior and lead Nassau County in rebounding.  The first day of practice my coach pulled me aside and said "Joe, I'm a little weary about doing this because I donít think you have the responsibility in you, you fool around too much but I'm going to make you captain."  I really did not care about being captain at all, but coach was right my responsibility was as visible and as easy to find as Atlantis, but I was the best player on the team so I knew coach had no choice.  At the time all my friends (who all excelled in school) were choosing colleges and talking about their plans for the future, when someone asked me I would make up a joke to cover up my lack of responsibility for myself.  I said "future??" I had no idea, none about college or why even to go to college, all I knew is I wanted to go to Oneonta because I heard about its nickname "Stoneonta".  Basketball season finally began, I was playing well and still didnít care about school, it was about that time when college applications were due but I said "ehh I'll do it later".  The only thing that I valued at this time were to somehow getmoney so I could buy alcohol, or steal it from my parents liquor cabinet, so I would steal money from my parents and sisters.  Weekends came and wentlike weekdays; it seemed like when I wasnít drunk or stoned I was playing basketball.  Christmas time came and to just try to let you understand the kind of person I was (if you havenít yet) this is what I bought my family for the holidays; my older sister who was 19 years old a Doll from the Dollar Store called "Nancy", my younger sister who was 14 years old the matching doll from the same dollar store only this doll's name was "Samantha".  The one gift I actually spent more than $1.07 was for my mother and I bought her a U2 videotape she had wanted, but I made up for that when I bought my Dad (this is no joke) a can of dog food, and a Star wars toothbrush.  I told my family "I thought that they were funny", in other words that meant I didnít want to spend money on you because I'd rather spend my money on pot and beer.  Its the truth I actually added up all the money I had and calculated the amount I would need to get me through winter break for all the kegs, and parties and the remainder of that calculation would be the amount of money I could spend on gifts.  Come to think of it I donít even remember buying my girlfriend a gift.  As the days after Christmas went on everyone was talking about New Years, and how it would be the best ever yada yada yada.  New Years eve came and my parents had gone out so I invited my friends over to drink before we would go out.  My friends and I bought this bottle of wine to celebrate and we passed it around all drinking from the bottle, we eventually went to this party that in time got broken up by the police, so I told all of my friends that we could bring the party back to my house.  My parents were so incredible they must have been drunk, they let me a 17 year old punk bring my drunk friends back to their suburban home to drink more! (Wow).

This is the day when things began to get weird for me, I didnít have one drink all night, I tried, and tried and my friends kept trying to edge me on to drink but I couldnít.  "I feel like I have to throw up,Ē I would keep
saying and I sat outside my house trying to throw up.  I thought nothing of this and didnít really tell anyone about it, so I went inside and continued to host the party.  The next few days I just slept, (I just thought I was very tired from New Years) but then I had basketball practice.  At practice I was leading the usual warm up drills that consist of lay up lines and other easy drills.  After I completed my first lay up I stopped running to catch my breath, which does not make sense I only jogged half the distance of the court and I was out of breath, it didnít make sense because I was in excellent physical condition and had done this thousands of times before and have never been out of breath.  I thought to myself that I just have a hang over from the night before.  After an extremely struggling practice I went home and complained to my Mom about a pain in my lower back, she gave me a heating pad for it so I heated it and went to sleep.  The following day in school I slept through all of my classes, which didnít seem unusual at first but I was sleeping because I was exhausted not because I didnít like math or science.  That day at practice my coach saw me struggling and asked me if I were alright, I replied yeah yeah I'm fine, not wanting to get any special treatment or let him know I am tired.  This went on for about 4 days and after practice, or a game each day I would go home to put a heating pad on my back and sleep all night long, even my girlfriendís birthday.  I had enough of this unbearable pain in my back; I told my Mom that I needed to go to the doctor to find out what this is about.  The day went on and I couldnít make it through school, I had gone to the nurse to lay and sleep, and even to the library to lay down on the floor in the back to sleep and help ease the pain of my back.  Most of my teachers thought I was just tired and didnít seem to care, but one of them thought I had sick and kept urging me to see a doctor.  She happened to be the only teacher who gave me an A my chefs 12 teacher.  She saw and knew that I wasnít myself; I wasnít smiling, or active at all.  I actually was limping when I walked or ran because of the strenuous pain in my back.  At practice that day my teammates kept asking me if I was alright and I finally said no, I told them how weak I was and that I have felt this way since the beginning of January.  They told me I looked "yellow" (referring to my skin) and that my eye's were also yellow, they were calling me a Mutant from The X-Men, I didnít believe them until I looked in the mirror.  At the practice I told my coach how weak I was and that I needed to go to the doctor so I would be leaving early, he was more than happy and told me that I should have told him earlier about my weakness.  Before I went to the doctor I was in the locker room changing, I wrote on my locker "Don't go near my locker I have a strange disease and I donít know" I wrote this as a joke messing around trying to exaggerate whatever I had, but little did I know.

The first thing the doctor said when she walked into the room was "Yeah".  I sat there on the examination table all yellow and sick like a clown at a funeral.  I knew I had something serious because the doctor looked at me and
immediately called every other doctor in that practice to come into the room and look at me.  They asked what my symptoms were and I told them, my urine could be mistaken for a cup of coffee, my stools were gray, I had a
ridiculous pain in my lower back, I look yellow, and I am extremely tired all the time.  They told me that I needed blood work, and blood work fast so I was sent to Winthrop Hospital to get blood work done.  The perception was
that I had Hepititious and that was to be confirmed by the blood sampling.  I was in the emergency room with my Mom, Dad and older sister just waitingaround; doctors were looking me at like a male in a female prison.  They had
no answers; I had to wait a day for the blood work to be done.  I was sent home to wait, in pain.  The next days were full of sleep and I had no contact with anyone outside of my family because I was always sleeping or in too much pain to speak on the telephone.  The blood work came back negative and I still had no idea what was wrong with me.  I went back to the doctor who told me that I needed a Sonogram, one of those tests that pregnant women
receive to look at the fetus.  After that test I needed to have a CT Scan of my abdomen.  All of these tests that were being performed on me required me not to eat, plus the doctors were telling me not to eat because they were unsure of what test I would have next.  After my Sonogram my Mother and I pulled into North Shore Hospital Emergency room, where I would be spending the next 2 weeks of my life.

Entering the Hospital I still had no clue what was wrong with me, I was as lost as George W. Bush as the President of the United States.  I had no idea, I didnít feel alive test after test, and I just nodded my head and tried to make things easy for the doctors.  The Doctors told me nothing, they just asked if this hurts, or that hurts, and if I had to go to the bathroom yet.  The doctors then described to me what a CT scan or CAT scan was and what they intended to get from the results of the test.  I didnít care one bit about the test, all I cared about was getting it over with so I could eat for the first time in about a day and a half.  After the test I had a hot dog and it was great, but because I'm so smart I forgot that hot dogs make you burp and every time you burp you use your stomach muscles to contract your stomach and my stomach wasnít really well at the time so it hurt a lot.  The doctors then came to me and explained that they needed a closer look at my stomach to see what the "real problem was" and that they
didnít get enough results from the CT scan they wanted more evidence.  So I was having surgery first thing the next morning, they put me in a room and asked me tons of questions about myself all in which I was completely honest
with.  I didn't let this get to me; I really didn't get nervous I said "Do what you have to do to make me better."

The next day was absurd; the nurses woke me up to take me to the operating room.  During pre-op though the operating assistant asked me if I drank, I wanted to be as honest as can be so I replied yes, they asked when you drink how much do you drink 2, 3 beers? It was kind of scary but at that time I was drinking a 12 with no problem.  I was completely honest answering all the questions as my parents stood above me.  I even answered honestly when they asked if I smoked pot, I just felt that being honest with the doctors would make things easier for them.    They were doing a biopsy on my liver, taking a bone marrow sample out of my hip, and also spinal fluid.  I just nodded my head and hoped for the best my Mom and Dad cried as they pushed me into the operating hall.  I didnít really get that nervous until I was pushed into the hallway.  I have never been more horrified in my whole life
to be rolled down the hall and look into the rooms of operating patients, words just wont describe it.  Getting on to the table and strapped in was scary and I said a prayer, its funny I really try not to think about this and this is the first time I have thought about it in a while.  But the surgeons were great, they were making me laugh and I was making them laugh.  The aneseteologist asked me what college I was planning on attending (college?) I said Oneonta, he replied "Oooohhhh STONEONTA heh!?!?, well here's the good stuff that'll make you feel all good" I was cracking up those guys really helped a lot.  The next thing I knew it was 4 hours later and I was throwing up screaming and cursing at anyone who tried to talk to me.

I woke up in a hospital room that night after surgery; I could see my father in the hallway standing.  I still did not know what was wrong with me, and I donít know why but I looked at him and I said, ďDad, do I have c-c-cancer?Ē he just shook his head yes in reply, then I closed my eyes and went to sleep.  I remember this all like it was yesterday, but typing this now and thinking about the whole story and situation sounds like a movie.  The new
world I was suddenly a member of really straightened me; it showed me what life was.  Iím a 17-year-old kid just breathing in a hospital bed.  A few days after my surgery my friends had all come up to the hospital to visit me, it was my first experience of being visited I had no idea how to react.    My Doctor (who is still my primary doctor today) had come to see me, he saw me smiling having fun with my visiting friends but he was there to tell me and I quote ďThis is not going to be fun and games, your going to get very sickĒ Quite frankly at first I sincerely disliked the man for saying that, telling me how sick I was going to be and how its not going to be easy, but as time went on I understood why he came in and told me how hard it was going to be.  The beginning of treatment wasnít bad, it was a new experience and my out going personality always welcomed new experiences so I didnít make this different than anything else.  The doctors explained the cycle of treatments that I would be receiving, that I would be in the hospital for 1 week receiving aggressive chemotherapy and the following week I would spend home recovering and recuperating from the treatment.  I had lots of visitorís people coming in with flowers and other various gifts; it felt
great to see the support I had.  My parents were breathtaking during the whole experience they rotated sleeping in the hospital with me so I wouldnít be alone, which was the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me. They made
sure they were there for me all the time and I was so fortunate.  I cannot explain the amount of love that I received from my family and community, people I did not even know were sending me get well cards and saying prayers
for me, and who was I just a kid who got sick.  I felt bad, I was feeling full of guilt for receiving this much pity, I didnít think I deserved it, and that is when I knew that I was beginning to change.

My outlook on life began to change; I began to learn about what life really was and how incredible it was.  I was transformed into a loving boy who had a complete understanding and ultimate respect and love for the world and
everyone who lived in it.  I would talk to my nurses and thank them repeatedly for helping me; my eyes were opened.  I saw myself transforming into a sensitive boy, who understood the world.    During treatment as a
Cancer patient until age 18 you join the American Cancer Society under pediatrics, which entitles you to a program called the Make a Wish Foundation.  The wish foundation provides cancer patients with any wish they want in the entire world weather it be meet a star or go on a vacation the foundation provides patients with just about anything to their desire.  The foundation to the day calls me to make a wish and I couldnít, and cannot make a wish without feeling guilt.  I donít feel as if I deserve or need it.  The way I feel is that I got my wish, Iíve got this appreciation for life and everything that is so incredible words cannot describe.  The Bible reads in John chapter nine verse twenty- five ďWhereas once I was blind, now I can seeĒ which is the exact way I feel.    There is not a day in my life that I
cannot smile, or be happy.  The world today just seems so caught up itís forgotten to appreciate, before I was diagnosed I didnít know what it was to see, or hear, if I were to see the grand canyon or something as beautiful as
a sunset I would just shrug it off, thatís the thing most people donít take the time to appreciate the world we live in.  It seems deranged to say but Cancer in a way is a paradox, it kills you, but it helps you. Iím a new person, I have the ability to see the world in a new light now, I learned more about life and myself than I ever will and I cherish that.  The way of handling a situation as drastic as Cancer is hard you can take the easy road and point the finger by blaming people and hate the world for you being sick.  Or you can take it as it is, say yeah I do have cancer but thatís life and thatís the way the dice roll, why blame the world?  Why not try to make the best out of the situation and try to take something meaningful out of the experience?  Thatís always the way I saw it, a close friend of mine
told me when I was first diagnosed ďJoe, if I were you I would be like Damn Why God? Why?Ē but I never thought of it that way, you cant ask why, its just like asking why when someone dies, there is no why you just have to accept it that is life, accepting and understanding.

I was completely transformed into a new person with a new outlook on life.   When I was put into remission (which means that I am off treatment) I came out of the hospital the happiest man in the world.  I managed to graduate
High School, and was actually accepted to a college in Long Island University.  The world was brand new to me and I loved every minute of it.   I went to school that following year and did great, I finished with a 3.25 GPA which I am extremely proud of I never did well in school.  I stopped smoking pot and drinking, it was the first time in my life when I actually felt good about who I was.  I had something to be proud of, I went from a kid who did nothing with his life but get intoxicated and have no respect or love for anyone, to a guy who has the outmost respect for life and everyone in it.  I feel as if cancer broke me down like a building and built me back up, stronger and improved. I feel like thereís nothing I canít do, and all I am doing is finding ways to improve myself. The strangest thing happened today though, as I was typing this very paper I picked up a fortune from a fortune cookie and it reads ďYouíre transforming yourself into someone who is certain to succeedĒ, If I didnít get sick I do not know where I would be right now, but I know that in one way I am better off having cancer now.

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