Unexplained Pain... (1999)
When everything around me got cloudy, the chair became a king’s throne, my destiny found me. It was clear why the struggle was so painful. Metamorphosis, this is what I changed to and God, I’m so thankful.
- Nas, You're Da Man, Stillmatic
Life is something that we as human beings should not take for granted because we don’t know what is in store for our future. In 8th grade at Cobalt Middle School (Victorville, CA). I played basketball for my school, and I was the MVP of the team. I played Little League Baseball and made the All-Star team.
I also played Junior All-American Football for the first time, and we made it to the Super Bowl, but we unfortunately lost. During the summer of 1999, a lump and swelling developed on my right knee, and I began to walk with an unexplained limp.
I come from a sports background, and I’ve been playing since I was five years old and I’m familiar with having Charley horses throughout the years. One day, I noticed the charley horse wasn’t going away. It was constantly throbbing like it had a pulse and was hot even with an ice pack on my knee.
I told my Parents (Angela and Darryl Richie) about my knee constantly aching, and they decided to take me to the Doctor (High Desert Primary Care, Victorville, CA). I did a routine X-Ray and MRI (Magnetic Resolution Imaging). I remember the Doctor not telling my Parents and I anything about the results, and he sent me to Loma Linda Children’s Hospital (Loma Linda, CA) to perform more tests.
While at Loma Linda Children’s Hospital, I was at the Hematology/Oncology Department (which is where children cancer patients are in the hospital). I took multiple tests while in the hospital, and when my Oncologist entered the room where my Parents and I were at. He said the test results were in and we waited anxiously for the results.
When I was 14… Helper and Protector (1999-2000)
The Doctor asked me how I was feeling and I said I was fine. Then I asked him when was I going to be able to go back to school because I only got to attend the first week in ninth grade at Silverado High School (Victorville, CA). My Doctor looked me in the eye and said I had Stage I cancer called osteosarcoma in my right knee, and I was going to start chemotherapy treatment as soon as possible.
When I heard those words. I felt everything was falling apart because at the time I was going into the ninth grade. That summer, I performed well for the Summer League Freshmen Basketball Team. At the time, my future that was bright and full of promise was now just dwindling away in the wind like debris.
Osteosarcoma is the most common bone cancer and accounts for 3% of all cancers that happen in children. It is one of the few cancers that begin in the bones and sometimes spread elsewhere, usually to the lungs or other bones. This cancer usually affects teens who experience a growth spurt. Boys are most likely to have osteosarcoma than girls, and in most cases, cancer involves the knee.
Stage I cancer is small and is very treatable and has a high cure rate in the majority of cancer patients. Chemotherapy is an anti-cancer drug that is designed to stop the growth of cancer cells in the human body. The Doctor told me about the side effects that were going to occur while on chemotherapy. I was going to experience hair loss, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, mouth sores, and constipation.
My Parents and I were devastated by the news about me having cancer at only 14 years old. We all cried, and I couldn’t completely grasp what was happening to me because what I knew was my life was going to be taken away from me, and there was nothing I could do about it.
“I was devastated, shocked, hurt and crushed when I found out he had cancer. It was unbelievable when I found out when the Doctors told me,” my Mother said. “It was like my heart got ripped out of me.”
“I couldn’t believe he had a tumor; I couldn’t believe what I was reading on the paper. I was also devastated and shocked because he was never sick,” my Father said. “That was hard to believe what the Doctors were saying.”
I have two younger siblings who were also devastated when they found out their big brother had cancer. My brother Derek at the time was 12 years old, and my sister Ashley was 10 years old.
“I was devastated,” my Brother said when he found out I had cancer.
“I didn’t really know what cancer was. I didn’t know what was really happening,” my Sister said. “After my Mom and Dad had explained it to me, I was sad. I didn’t know what was going to happen to him because we were constantly at the hospital. Doctors were constantly running tests.”
I had a great support system from family and friends from all over the world. The support system I had came from Australia to multiple states in America. I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me because I was no different than any other teenager. I played sports with friends, played on recreational sports teams, played video games, watched movies and listened to music.
I didn’t understand why I was chosen to have this serious disease at such a young age. All I knew about cancer at the time I was diagnosed was that people get it once they are older. My first day doing chemotherapy treatment was a scary experience because I’ve never been admitted to a hospital before. My roommate was older than me, about 17 or 18 years old and he, unfortunately, lost his leg to cancer and was a hip amputee.
I remember when I first saw him without his prosthetic leg, it terrified me that cancer could take a person’s leg away. In my mind, I remember thinking to be a hip amputee could never happen to me. I was going to be healthy again and pick up my life where I left off. While doing chemotherapy treatment, I couldn’t stop thinking what the Doctor said about the side effects, and I was expecting, waiting for all them to happen to me.
Chemotherapy broke me down mentally, spiritually and physically.
First, I noticed my hair was slowly falling out, then I became very weak, fatigued and I noticeably lost weight. The chemotherapy made me very nauseous, and I always had a bucket close by just in case I had to vomit.
The most difficult side effects I had to endure were mouth sores and dealing with constipation. The mouth sores were difficult because it was hard for me to eat anything, and it seemed like I always had a sore throat. It hurt for me to swallow anything from liquids to food.
Constipation was by far the most difficult side effect I experienced while on chemotherapy. For instance, it got to the point to where I was scared to eat because I knew eventually I would have to use the restroom. I remember the first time I used the restroom while constipated and I was crying because the pain was so severe. When I got done, I saw there was nothing but blood in the bowl.
I needed an alternative to eating, and I started drinking Boost, which is a drink that Doctors recommend for patients in order to supplement their diets and make sure they’re getting the necessary nutrients they need to stay healthy. There were some days when the constipation wasn’t as severe, and I could eat regular food and keep it down.
My chemotherapy regimen consisted of being at Loma Linda Children’s Hospital for three, five and seven days every other week. On top of that, I had to do physical exams, blood tests, and imaging scans. While doing my chemotherapy treatment, I had to get a knee replacement. The Doctors told me the chemotherapy did its job by killing most of the cancer, but it didn’t kill it all. In order to get all the cancer out of my body, I must have a knee replacement and continue doing chemotherapy treatment.
“I was happy, but I was sad at the same time. It was like a new beginning, but I didn’t want to let the past go either because I knew he wanted his leg and wanted him to have his leg,” my Mother said. “If I could I would have given him my leg. It was mixed emotions for me, but overall, he is here and what made me get through this was knowing he was going to be ok.”
“I was happy when they saved his leg because he wanted to play sports,” my Father said. “I wish he had his original leg, but we knew if the cancer came back other measures would need to be taken.”
“I was devastated and heartbroken. I felt like there was nothing I could do,” my Brother said. “It was out of my control.”
“I was happy that the cancer was going to be gone, but that surgery literally took all day, so I didn’t know what was going to happen,” my Sister said. “Going into surgery for that long, all I could think about is making sure he was ok. Nothing else went wrong, and they got all the cancer out.”
Before the surgery, I was scared because I didn’t want anything terrible to happen to me to where I couldn’t use my leg anymore. My leg was reconstructed, stitches and staples were used to keep what was left of my leg together.
Overall, the surgery was a success, and by the very next day, I was up and doing physical therapy. After my surgery, I began feeling sharp nerve pains because my leg was reconstructed. I remember my foot was so swollen and it hurt to put pressure on the floor, and I had to walk with crutches. These pains would keep me up for many nights because my whole body would violently shake and I would be in fear because I knew another sharp pain would happen again, but I didn’t know when. I was prescribed Vicodin and Morphine to help ease the pain.
Once I could tolerate the physical therapy more, I began to sleep with a machine that forced my right leg to bend so I could have some range of motion and walk again. This hurt because I had a stiff metal rod in my leg that was now my right knee, and it felt at times that the metal was going to rupture my skin, but thank God it never did.
I had to learn how to walk all over again with an artificial knee with the help of physical therapy.
While in the hospital during this time, my Mother bought me a Bible to help keep my spirits up while I was going through this difficult ordeal that I had no control over.
My favorite scripture is Luke 1:37: “For with God, Nothing Shall be Impossible.”
Nas: Helper and Protector...
During this time, I listened to Hip-Hop artist Nas and his Stillmatic album. The album gave me hope, strength to move on and changed my life. I remember the first time I listened to “Stillmatic (The Intro)” off the album. This song single-handedly inspired me to believe I could beat cancer.
At the beginning of the song, Nas said, “The Brother’s Stillmatic. I crawled up out of that grave, wiping the dirt, cleaning my shirt, they thought I’d make another ‘Illmatic.’ But it’s always forward I’m moving, never backwards stupid here’s another classic.”
Nas also said, “This is the rebirth. I know the streets thirst water like Moses, walking through the hot desert, searching to be free. This is my ending and a new beginning – nostalgia. Alpha and Omega places, it’s like a glitch in “The Matrix.”
“Let my words guide you, get inside you, from Crips to Pirus; this is survival.”
At the end of the song, Nas chants, “Blood of a Slave, Heart of a King.” When I heard this song for the first time, I felt like I could conquer anything. Stillmatic (The Intro) is the ultimate redemption song about accepting the things that happened in your past, but also moving forward and believing that better days are ahead in the future.
“One Mic” was another song that captured how I was feeling at the time. My emotions were all over the place because I was going through something I had no control over.
During the song, Nas sounded like he was going crazy because he was changing his vocal tone from high to low throughout the song. I remember I had the Stillmatic album on repeat while I was in the hospital doing my chemotherapy treatment at 14 years old. Nas’ Stillmatic album is my favorite album of all time.
During this time, I was approached by the Debbie Chisholm Memorial Foundation (DCMF). DCMF grants wishes to catastrophically ill children in the Inland Empire (Southern California). I chose to have a $2,000 shopping spree at Best Buy. A limo picked me and a few family members up at my house. When I got to Best Buy, I bought a desktop computer with a desk, a TV, a Sega Dreamcast with a few games and two music CDs.
After the shopping spree, I wanted pizza and had Pizza Hut for lunch.
Darryl and Garland "Corky" Bell...
In 2017, I found this picture when I Googled my name and myself with Mr. Bell (Executive Director, Debbie Chisholm Memorial Foundation) came up with the search results. This photo displays me with Mr. Bell before going to Best Buy, and a letter I wrote thanking him and his foundation for everything I received from the shopping spree.
Making Wishes Come True Throughout Southern California.
– Debbie Chisholm Memorial Foundation
Shortly after my shopping spree, I met actor Jason James Richter, who is probably most known for his lead role in the movie “Free Willy.” He visited the children cancer patient’s one day, and I happened to be one of the few to meet him while in the hospital.
Some People Walk in Each Other’s Shoes… I Carry Mine (2000-2001)
Having a sports background before being diagnosed with cancer helped me in the long run while doing chemotherapy treatment because even though I was sick with a deadly disease, I was still healthy. Since I was semi-healthy. I could knock out each chemotherapy treatment week after week, and I never stayed in the hospital longer than I had to because I was always healthy enough to go home and recover.
Some of my friends from middle school heard I was battling cancer and visited me when I was home after completing a week’s worth of chemotherapy treatment. At the time of their visit, I was on crutches and couldn’t move my leg. They couldn’t understand why I couldn’t move my leg because it’s something that isn’t thought about when you’re healthy.
This specific conversation I had with my friends made me more appreciative of the things I took for granted in the past, like walking, kneeling and running on own my strength. Slowly as time passed, I noticed I was coming back into my own. For example, physical therapy was becoming a lot easier, and I graduated from walking with crutches to a cane.
Weeks before my last chemotherapy treatment, I received an autograph picture from NBA Point Guard Jason Kidd, who was one of my favorite players at the time. It slips my mind who was nice enough to get in contact with Jason Kidd and his brand so I could receive this picture, but it was much appreciated. To this day, the picture is still hanging up in my room at my Parents’ house.
When I was able to walk on my own strength again without a cane, I finished my chemotherapy treatment. The whole process of being in and out of the hospital and rehabilitating my right leg with physical therapy took about two years. I was also homeschooled the whole time while I was diagnosed with cancer. My teacher came to the hospital while I was there, and he came to my house. I still had to study the usual subjects such as Math, English, History and I had homework with due dates.
While sick, I graduated from the ninth grade on time and was ready to move on to the 10th grade. It was exciting and nerve-racking that I was going to physically be at Silverado High School for my sophomore year. I returned to Silverado High School two months after my sophomore year started in 2001. I remember walking onto campus for the first time with my friend who lived three houses down from me.
I remember feeling nervous because even though I was technically a sophomore. I felt like a freshman because I didn’t have that freshmen experience like the rest of my classmates did. When my friend and I walked through the gates, some people recognized me, and others were looking at me like they saw a ghost. I wasn’t that popular at Cobalt Middle School (which is across the street from Silverado High School), but I’m sure the word had spread around campus that I was fighting for my life battling cancer.
Getting back to the same routine of going to school five days a week again like I used to before I got sick was a difficult adjustment for me. I was still getting used to having a knee replacement, and at the time I could only walk with a limp, but not run.
I was also socially awkward, which made me feel like I didn’t belong there. The basketball coaches remembered me, and I told them I couldn’t play on the team because I couldn’t run. The Junior Varsity Basketball Coach asked if I wanted to be the Manager for the team, and of course, I accepted.
It felt good to be in an environment I felt most comfortable, but I wanted to be on the court playing instead of watching. I decided to do my own physical therapy, which consisted of stationary cycling, weightlifting and running after school.
After less than a year of doing my own physical therapy, I had a routine check-up about my leg to see if it was strong enough for me to play basketball. The Doctor said I could try out for the basketball team, only if I wear a specially made knee brace. I was excited because I worked hard on my own rehabbing because I wanted to play basketball again and I met my goal. When my junior year came around, I was ready to try out for the Junior Varsity Basketball Team.
I do not own any content from the song and album cover displayed from Nas' Stillmatic. No Copyright Intended. Lyrics are copyright to their respective owners. All Rights go to Nas. You’re Da Man lyrics courtesy of Nas from the Stillmatic album.
Jones, N, Perf. Jones, N. P, Mitchell. Large Professor. You’re Da Man. Nas. Ill Will, Columbia/SME, 2001.
I don’t own any content from the Debbie Chisholm Memorial Foundation. No Copyright Intended. All image is copyright to their respective owners. All content is property of Debbie Chisholm Memorial Foundation.
Darryl Richie and Garland “Corky” Bell Picture. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 May 2017. http://www.dcmfwishes.org/whatothers/darryl_richie.htm
Frantz, N. Christopher, (MD) and Gupta, C. Rupal (MD) Childhood Cancer: Osteosarcoma. Retrieved from http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/cancer/cancer_osteosarcoma.html
Nas Stillmatic Album Art. Digital image. www.genius.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 June 2016. http://genius.com/Nas-stillmatic-album-art-lyrics
"Nutritional & Medical Considerations." Boost. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Feb. 2017. https://www.boost.com/health-and-nutrition/medical-considerations
Uddin, Rae. "Five Stages of Cancer." www.liveStrong.com. Ed. Brenda Spiggs. Demand Media, Inc., 12 June 2014. Web. 23 Nov. 2014. http://www.livestrong.com/article/92456-stages-cancer/
"What is Chemotherapy?. www.CancerCenter.com. Cancer Treatment Centers of America, n.d. Web. 1 Oct 2013. http://www.cancercenter.com/treatments/chemotherapy/
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