Then, when I was four years old, disaster struck! A swelling began to grow under my jaw. Being obviously concerned, my parents took me to a doctor. After a close examination he thought the swelling was being caused by an abcess. However, after further study, this was not the case. They noticed in their studies that my lymph nodes looked rather bad. "Lymph nodes, what are those?" You know, those roundish bodies that supply lymphocytes to the heart and blood vessels. Don't worry, I don't understand much of it myself! An operation was performed to remove some of them for testing. This was the first operation in what was to be a long and difficult struggle. After studying the lymph nodes, they found no new evidence as to the cause of the swelling.
The doctors had noticed that my tonsils were swollen so large they almost touched each other, which isn't good. So another operation was performed to remove them, but the swelling was still there.
The swelling continued to grow, and by now had grown around the side of my neck and close to the main nerve in the back of my head. I soon lost control of my eyes. My eyeballs would just roll around like marbles in a bowl of grease. I was not able to keep them both trained in the same direction. They then decided to do a biopsy of the swelling, and I was soon entering the operating room for the third time. Having three major operations in such a short time would be traumatic for anyone, but especially for a four year old. The doctors were uneasy about performing this third operation. They would have to cut into the side of my neck. If they were to accidentally damage a nerve, part of my head could be paralyzed. Not exactly an exciting thought! Following this third operation, I almost didn't make it. I spent several difficult hours in the recovery room fighting to stay alive. My mother says I didn't look like I would live.
Later, the doctor told my parents that they had finally diagnosed the swelling as a malignant tumor called, "Rhabdomyosarcoma", a deadly type of cancer. The doctor told them that this type of cancer was very serious, and he didn't know anyone who had lived through it. My parents were told I had at the most ONE WEEK TO LIVE! Although the doctor remarked that he didn't think I would live out that week! That was over 30 years ago, so it's been a long week!
A decision was finally made that radiation therapy was the one thing that MIGHT work. I almost didn't live to receive my first treatment. The night before, I came closest to death that I was to be during this struggle. I was asleep in my hospital bed, and because my throat was so swollen from the tumor, my breathing was loud and could be heard across the room. Suddenly, in the middle of the night, I stopped breathing! My mother went running to get help, and a doctor and two nurses came immediately, and soon were able to get me breathing again.
The following morning, as I was leaving to get my first radiation treatment, my mother's aunt and cousin came by to visit. They said that judging from the way I looked, they doubted if I would make it through the next night, let alone an entire week!
That day, the radiologist had more discouraging news. He said that usually when they used radiation on a tumor such as mine, the tumor started to grow faster. He told my parents that as far as he was concerned, my chances of survival were zero! Every day for the next thirty days, I went back to receive my radiation treatments. Instead of the tumor growing and killing me, it went away. The doctors were astounded. They couldn't believe I was still alive. So, after spending almost two months on the verge of death, I was on my way home.
Several weeks later, my family and I were visiting relatives out of town. One night I awoke with a terrible headache. A couple of days later, while cutting my hair, my mother noticed another swelling, this time on the back of my head. Her thoughts were to recall the previous swelling, and we ended our vacation, and returned to the hospital immediately. The tumor had returned!
Because of the location of the new tumor, operating was practically impossible without killing me. There was nothing they could do! Again, the doctors said, Joshua is going to die. The headaches continued, and began to get worse. Soon I just had a 24-hour headache. The pain was tremendous, and I was constantly kept under sedation. As soon as one sedative would wear off, I would cry in pain until I was given more. All I could do was lie in bed, too weak to even sit up. My parents had to hold my head up to give me the medicine.
The doctors finally decided to try a newly developed type of Chemotherapy. Because of the side effects of the therapy treatments, all my hair fell out. The new treatments made my stomach so upset I couldn't keep down food. I quickly lost weight. On my fifth birthday, I only weighed 27 pounds! I began to look like the pictures you see of starving children in other countries.
In March of that year, when someone was giving me a blood test, they found that my red blood cells were not developing properly. He wrote in my medical journal; "Joshua is sinking fast!" He told my parents he was surprised I was still alive.
I received my chemotherapy treatments through injection. I became so used to having a needle stuck in my arm, I just sat and watched them. Because of the many shots, my veins began to shrink. Sometimes they would have to stick me several times trying to find a vein that would hold up. I still have several scars from all of those needles. One time the needle slipped out of the vein and medicine shot all under my skin causing a bad burn.
Finally, almost two years after the first sign of any swelling, the cancer went away. The doctors told my parents, there still was not much hope, and eventually I would die from it. However, there has been no sign of it since then.
The cancer was gone, but it left behind several scars that would remain with me for life. From the time the cancer was gone, until I was nine, I only grew 2 inches. The doctors found that my growth hormone was gone, destroyed by the radiation. Too this day, I am only 4' 11" tall. Because I am so short, people are constantly thinking I am still a kid. At 37 years old, that can be a problem sometimes. Just recently I had someone tell me they thought I was only 16 or 17. I have been pulled over by the police on numerous occasions, because they didn't think I was old enough to be driving.
The radiation and chemotherapy also partially paralyzed my vocal chords. This has made it difficult for people to understand me at times, especially over the telephone, or when they first talk to me. My throat is also partially paralyzed making it difficult for me to eat at times. I have to force the food to go down. Many times, my face breaks out in sweat after eating a meal.
There are other problems as a result of having this difficult trauma, but they are too detailed to go into. Naturally, my life has not been easy. It is not uncomplicated to experience something like this and live to tell about it. The first inclination is to crawl into a hole somewhere and give up. Many people in a position like I was in do just that! By doing so, their life is wasted.
If the choice were up to me to redo my life, I would have cancer again. I would undergo all the painful surgeries, all the tests, and would endure the great times of difficulty again, so that my life could be used as an encouagement and inspiration to others. Sure, it hasn't been easy, and it doesn't get easier, but the positives way outweigh the negatives. The problem is, most people spend all their time concentrating on the negative aspects of life. Remember, life is what YOU make it!
? 2004 - Joshua Goodling.