charlie sanders

IamA 17 Year Old, and today I beat Cancer. AMA!

Late in 2014 I had a lymph node sticking out from under my chin that was about the size of a golf ball. My family kept saying “maybe it’ll go down” until eventually in early January of 2015 I went to the doctor’s office to have it seen. That started a long process of biopsies, surgeries, and eventually chemo treatments. I had be diagnosed in early February with Stage 2A Favorable Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. (Staging for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/hodgkindisease/detailedguide/hodgkin-disease-staging).

Cancer is hard for everyone, but for a 17 year old with hopes of being alive for their entire life, it was especially hard. However, I remember laughing and smiling at first when my dad got the phone call, and then going to my room and crying. I haven’t cried since. The people around me have called me an inspiration, because I’ve only looked at the bright side of this disease. If I can inspire people and help them get over hardships in life, then I’d live for it. I’ve completed over 77 hours of chemo treatments, and I’ve missed probably nearly 100 days of school (Junior in high school at the time, now a Senior). Today I went for a review of my recent PET scan from a week ago, and the doctor walked in and told me I was in complete remission. I kicked cancer’s ass.

Proof: http://imgur.com/a/nNLX0

More Proof: https://instagram.com/charlieyoloswag/ (My instagram, I post a lot of crap on it; however, If you go back far enough I posted a series called “Chemo Mane” where I posted a picture and update for every chemo visit I had.)

Even More Proof: http://imgur.com/a/u2UP8

I’m 17 years old and sadly I was diagnosed with leukemia a few weeks ago. Do you have any tips for me to get through this?

They are two different things, so I can’t give specifics. Just try to be happy and a positive influence for the people around you. it may sound silly, but people positive in the hardest times and inspiring others will make you happy. You can do it!

Congrats! I’m also in complete remission for the second time. I’m 23, had cancer at 19 and 22. How bad was your chemo? I still get nauseated just thinking about it, the saline solution that they use to flush the lines still makes me gag!

Congratulations! You’ve been through hell but you made it back! Chemo for me was very bad. I had bad nausea and would get nauseated on the pre-meds. The chemo lasted 6-8 hours and I would try to sleep as much as possible. The saline flush didn’t taste too bad to me, but I know some people absolutely hated it. What is bad for me was the popsicles I had to eat during that “red death” chemo drug. I can’t stand popsicles, ice chips, or ice cream anymore. I get sick thinking about them.

Sounds as though you have a great family and strong support system. Be positive. Glad you beat cancer! Now that you’re in remission, what are your plans? Are you a senior in high school this year?

There is something that the doctors have said is “new” and a “miracle” and it’s called a Survivorship Plan, where you plan how often you will get scans and check-ups for the next few years. Not sure how that’s new, but maybe there is more to it. That’s all I know about that.

I plan to get a job and finish my last year in high school strong! Then I want to get into a nice college for business or music production. Yes I am a senior in high school this year (:

I am now where you were several months ago. I have lumps on my neck and have had two biopsies that have come up inconclusive. I go in for another one in a week and a half, hopefully this will give an answer. Even though the biopsies were inconclusive the Dr. says there is a good chance that it is Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I try not to think about it because worrying won’t help, but it scares me. Any words of advice?

When I had biopsies they said it wasn’t certain but a high chance i had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Just know that it’s a cancer that has a HIGH cure rate. I was very unhealthy and let the lymph node grow for months. They found more deeper in my neck later. I was in that situation and still beat it. Someone at my school was diagnosed with the same cancer and had it probably three times worse and still beat it. I hope it’s not cancer at all, but if it is you can beat it! Also be positive! Even when you feel like giving up, don’t! I felt like giving up many times but just accepting the fact that it was there and I wasn’t going to let it stay there was what got me to every chemo to beat it!

Another thing, your life may be a jumbled mess for a little bit, but you will adapt and it will get better!

I see that you wrote the worst part was the 6-8 hour chemo treatments and the nausea in the days after. How did you cope with this? Were there any foods that were easier to gulp down?

At first I had strange cravings (pickles, ramen noodles, chicken nuggets) but eventually I couldn’t eat ANY food for a few days. As for the nausea, they gave me Promethazine and Ondansetron. These wouldn’t make the nausea go away entirely (still too bad to get out of bed or eat) but they would relax me enough to sleep.

I remember seeing a post of this person who only had months to live. He/she mentioned that they felt like they were the one’s having it easy while the people around them are the one’s suffering. How do you feel about this sentiment? I can’t imagine what it’s like to face possible death and to survive it, so of course congratulations on making it and sharing your story!

It’s very inspiring to me that they viewed the world that way. I can understand their view a little bit (of course not entirely because I’ve never been told I will die). Having to deal with this situation has made me more patient, understanding, and positive. I have never been happier. I don’t want anyone to have to deal with what I, and many others have; however, I wish people would view life with a more positive perspective and understand it’s all about being happy with yourself and those around you.

First of all, congratulations! You’re a fighter! I think I speak for all of us when I say your story is inspirational. Secondly, what was your initial reaction when you received your diagnosis?

Initially I laughed at the thought of me having cancer. My past three years in high school I had put people down and only cared for myself and now I was being punished in a way. I cried one good time and promised myself that whatever I went through, I would be positive. Even the people I had put down showed support for me and it blew me away. Now I am only positive and am the first person to become friends with “that new kid” or “that kid with no friends.”

Was your lymphnode visible from the outside or did you have to palpate with your finger to know it was there? Did you have any other symptoms beside the node? I recently went to see ENT doc but when I told him I feel a hard ball in my neck he didn’t think it was serious but I’m thinking I should have gotten ultrasound or something.

Mine was very visible when I lifted my chin. I had an ultrasound before my biopsy of the lymph node. It could be nothing, but I would tell your doctor you are worried about it, they can suggest whatever they believes is correct from there.

Who is your favorite superhero?

Deadpool!

So you had the good Hodgkins?

Haha, yes I did have the “good Hodgkins.”

It’s funny, that’s what my doctor told me during the diagnosis. He kept saying “you have the good hodgkin’s to get.”

Was today the day you got diagnosed as “beating” cancer, or today was the official day that your cell levels were detected under a normal range? Nonetheless, congrats.

They were diagnosed in normal range. I honestly didn’t know the difference. I feel like I’ve beaten it and I’m ready for anything else that might be thrown my way.

Do you play an instrument or sing?

I play Tuba, Trombone, and Piano. I love music, I wouldn’t mind doing music production in my future. I work with musicians everyday and I’ve helped promote an album a friend of mine has made. Singing isn’t something I do everyday, but I do love to sing as well!

PET scans requires the patient being exposed to lots of radiation. Was there no other imaging or technique for the docs to find out if you still have cancer cells in the body?

I’m happy for your friend! I’m sure you were great to her! In my case the lymph nodes that had the cells in them were deep in my neck. That required a PET scan for sure, I’m not sure if there are other methods. I had an ultrasound a few times but that was just to find swollen lymph nodes.

Did you ever feel like it was unfair that you had to go through this and get jealous of people without cancer?

I had been depressed a few times because I thought I was nearly done with chemo but ended up having to do more than planned. I never felt like it was unfair, because I don’t want anyone to have to deal with cancer, or any other disease or condition that gives them troubles in life; however, my friends did joke around a lot (including myself, so I was okay with it) but I did wonder if they would joke around if it was them instead.

Could you describe how chemotherapy feels like?

So chemo can be taken two ways (that I know of). One way is through an IV and the other is through a chemo port. I had a chemo port. They would stick a needle into the port (located on the upper torso over my heart) and push a saline flush and some other drug I can’t remember to keep the port from clotting. You can taste the saline flush for a few seconds (it’s like a metallic taste for me, it’s different for some people). After that they start the chemo pre-meds. The pre-meds are different for each type of chemo. I had anti-nausea medicine (that made me nauseated) and benadryl that made me sleep. The benadryl had a real use (not to make me fall asleep) but I can’t remember it. After the pre-meds were done I started one of my chemo drugs called the “red death” or “red devil” and I would have to eat something cold during the fifteen minute push to keep from getting mouth sores. After that I two other chemo drugs that took 30 minutes each and then one last one that took two hours. I personally didn’t feel any of these drugs entering my body. Plus I had to pee a lot, and my urine is toxic for two days after the chemo.

I’ve heard people who take chemo through IV’s have a much worse time.

You are AMAZING! I am a survivor of a life threatening flesh eating bacteria infection, so I can relate to almost dying and feeling blessed to be alive. I also survived the aftermath which was opiate addiction, then heroin junky status for 5 years, and now I’m clean as of 8 months. I’m proud of myself….most days. I hope you have a fulfilling and eventful rest of your life, buddy! IS your cancer 100% gone with no chance of returning? Is that even how cancer works? Could you get another tumor at any point in your life randomly?

I am very inspired that you have overcome so much in life! I have feared that I would become addicted to the promethazine that was prescribed to me for nausea. Stay strong!

My cancer is not 100% gone, it never is. I am in remission which means right now the areas of my body that took in extra amounts of radioactive sugar from PET scans no longer are taking in abnormal amounts. Everyone has cancer cells in their body, but when they mutate out of control is when you are considered to have cancer. As of right now I have the normal amount of cancer cells. There is a chance of it coming back (higher than someone who has never been diagnosed) so that is why I will be doing regular scans for the next few years to make sure it doesn’t come back.

What were the most important things that you learned about yourself from this experience?

I learned that it’s human nature to want to live. I learned that whatever I had to do to live, I would do it. That could be bad or good; however, in my case I wasn’t willing to harm anyone for myself to live so it was great!

How did you deal with being depressed frequently?

If you have frequent depression, or it keeps you from doing what you love, I would seek professional help. I didn’t like the idea of a psychiatrist; however, they helped me a great deal in being happy. I had one or two days during all of my chemo that I was truly depressed and they were the days I was told I had to do more chemo than planned. I would just talk to my friends on skype and play WoW or other games to cope with it. Please help yourself, it’s worth it!

I’m also 17 and feeling pretty lost. Any advice?

Feeling lost? I shouldn’t give advice because each situation is different; however, you should do what makes you happy. Being happy is what matters in life, above all else. One day we all die, and that day comes sooner than we’d like, so live a happy life if you can. If you are unhappy, makes changes that make you happy. Sometimes you just have to power through it. If you are sad or depressed I’d suggest getting professional help. I had some issues with depression a few years ago and a psychiatrist helped me so much.

Were there any pre-existing conditions or did this come out of nowhere?

It came out of nowhere. It was almost like one day the lymph node wasn’t swollen and the next day it was. I didn’t have any symptoms of hodgkin’s either other than the fact it was there.

That’s such a rough thing to do but here you are surviving it. How do you feel?

I feel invincible! I know that’s not true, but I feel like I can do anything I put myself to!

How has this ordeal changed your young perspective on life?

This has caused me to appreciate just living. Being positive and happy can make for an awesome life.

Did cannabis have any role in the battle against the cancer?

Not for me personally. I had potential to get cannabis oil but never asked for it.

What did you think of the concept of “fighting cancer” or “battling cancer”? How did it positively or negative affect your experience of having cancer?

It made me feel like I was a warrior honestly. It made me feel like it was truly a battle and I was victorious for fighting it. It doesn’t mean I failed if I didn’t beat it, I still fought a nasty fight!

What was the most difficult part of your journey?

The most difficult part was the actual chemo, it was 6-8 hours in one day every two weeks and I would be sick and hardly eat for a week afterwards. I had chemo during school weeks and struggled to do my work (they helped me a ton though!) and when I was out for summer vacation I could hardly go anywhere because every two weeks I would have a chemo and be sick for a week.

Was there anything that shouldn’t have been funny but was for some reason?

My friends and I have a darker sense of humor, and I told them I was perfectly okay with cancer jokes and even joked about it myself. So the entire situation was funny when it shouldn’t have been. Plus I lost my eyebrows about a month ago and we joke about that.

Did you ever think of planning your funeral? Like did you want to be buried or cremated or anything like that. Anything you wanted to buried with or did you even make a will?

I won’t lie, I considered making a will. Mainly because you never know what could happen and the thoughts of having issues during surgery did cross my mind. I don’t like to think of death, because I want to be positive and live focusing on life and not death.

I’m a final-year pediatric resident, about to start a pediatric hematology/oncology fellowship. Is there anything that the physicians could have done better during your care, or anything that you really appreciated them doing?

Personally, I felt out of the loop on some things. I wish they had taken more time to go over specifics of what it’s like to do chemo and so-on. If possible.

I really appreciated the fact that I was treated like someone special to them, and that they built friendships with me and everyone else there. It made each chemo visit a little bit easier.

How supportive were your teachers and other school faculty during the time you missed?

My teachers put in extra work to help me have a smooth time. I am forever thankful for them! The faculty helped me get on hospital-homebound and miss as many days as I had to! I am glad you are in good health!

What is your favorite TV show?

South Park. It’s so awesome, and people shouldn’t take it as serious as they do.

When you know you have cancer, do you have a feeling that you want to do as many things you havent done as possible before you die or just simply focus on beating cancer?

For me, I wanted to focus on beating it. At the same time I worked on skills that I want to use in the future (mixing music, writing music, photoshop, premiere pro.)

Did you have a choice between Chemo or Radiation? If so what swayed you to Chemo?

It depends on the severity of the cancer, the type of cancer, the location of the cancer. For me chemo was the start. They planned radiation after my chemo treatments ended just to make sure it would go away. I’m sure if you qualify for both you can say which you prefer. It’s your body!

What was the best part of the experience?

The experience was the best part. It made me realize life doesn’t revolve around the small negative things in life. Be happy and live for everyday because you could die the next.

Has the chemo impacted your libido?

Not at all. It might affect my fertility but that’s it. I read it’s important to continue sexual activity during chemo.

Ever since the whole thing started, did your diet change? If yes, what kind of food did the doctor recommended you to eat? Solid or liquid?

My diet has changed, eating a lot less. My doctor suggested eating what I normally did, but my nausea kept me from eating as much for sure.

What was the first thing you literally did after receiving the news?

The doctor walked in told me “My friend, you are in complete remission” and handed me a paper on Survivorship Plans. I stared at the paper in disbelief and held back tears. Then I texted my mom.

What’s hip with the kids now a days?

Memes.

I hate to be that guy, but just because you are in complete remission it does not mean you have “beat” cancer. Are you aware of this and will you still be having checkups?

I know of this, and I will still be having checkups for a long time. It may not be considered “beating” it, but I feel like I kicked it’s ass and that I can handle whatever else it throws at me.

What are some things that you really wanted but we’re to afraid or embarrassed to ask for?

Finances were an issue for me. I have an excellent insurance policy that pays for all my treatments 100%; however, surgeries were expensive and not paid for. I asked for some help on gofundme and was very nervous and embarrassed to do it. People helped out and even the little bit I got helped a great deal!

Why do you feel as though you’re unique enough to deserve an AMA? I assume 17 year olds who “beat” cancer are not the rarest thing in the world. Also “beating” cancer is not a legitimate accomplishment that requires specialized skill or expertise on your part (although possibly on the part of your doctors and maybe some element of chance), therefore it’s unlikely that your opinions or advice are particularly interesting or useful.

Just reading this post shows that it’s not rare, and that many people have beaten cancer! The fact that it consumed my life for six or seven months and stopped me from doing half the things I loved (missed out on school trips, a majority of my summer, I couldn’t hang out with my friends nearly as much, I can’t lift weights due to my port, etc.) and then I still overcame the disease and I can move on is a great feat in my eyes. I just figured maybe people are interested in what it’s like (atleast for me) or maybe people are given hope that they can overcome the issues in their life whether it be cancer, financial, spiritual, or something completely different.

Did you start making meth to support your family like Mr. White?

We need to cook Jesse.

Do you consider yourself a 90’s kid?

Not at all. I was born in 1997 and that’s no time to understand that I was even in the 90’s. My brother was a 90’s kid however, and we watched Nick and Disney shows from the late 90’s.

What are you gonna do first now that your cancer free?

Hey! I am going to start getting healthier and exercising my “freedom.” Now I’m not held back every other week and I can start doing things I enjoyed to do before all of this nonsense!

What did you think of this AMA Highlight?

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