Best of Luck, Spiderman

Written by Tom Weir of Newtown, “Best of Luck, Spiderman” was the second-place winner in our 2014 Essay Contest’s high school division.

Even if I wanted to forget the ordeal, I don’t think I ever could. It began in March of 2012, shortly after my mom’s birthday. I had developed appendicitis. They told me they would operate soon, so I wasn’t allowed to drink anything for two days. Although no one knew at the time, I had a condition which required me to drink constantly.  When I couldn’t drink, my blood sodium went up, and with it my blood pressure. After I recovered, I had chronic migraines. A neurologist put me on Excedrin to help deal with the pain. When we followed up with the doctor on September 18th, my mom told him I wasn’t sleeping through the night, as I was constantly getting up to get something to drink.

The doctor ordered a brain MRI. He did not explain to us why he wanted one. I had the MRI on October 3rd, and five days later, he called us, asking if we could come into his office so he could discuss the results of the MRI with us.

One of my friends commented, “Wouldn’t it be terrible if it were a tumor?”

When my parents and I arrived at the hospital, the secretary told us to have a seat in the waiting room, the doctor would be with is soon. The sound of Sesame Street blared over the television. It certainly didn’t help the anxiety I was already feeling. One by one, all the patients went in for their appointments. We then watched them leave, one by one, until I was the only patient there. Dr. Legido took us back to his private office, where I sat in the corner between my dad and the door.

“The MRI showed a growth of some kind. We don’t know what it is. We need a biopsy to diagnose it.”

My stomach dropped at his words. I wanted to cry. I asked if it was OK if I left for a few moments. I walked, as calmly as I could, out of his office. Then I sprinted to the bathroom.

After I threw up, I turned and saw my dad standing a few feet behind me. Although it must have been as difficult for him, he said a few words that managed to calm me down.

“It’ll be alright. We’ll make it through this as a family. We always do.”

I hugged my dad, and slowly pulled myself together. He was right. I splashed some water on my face, took some deep breaths, hugged him again, and straightened my back.

When we returned to the doctor’s office, I noticed my mom’s eyes were red. She had great difficulty getting out her questions. I knew I had to stay strong for her.

She rattled off the questions, one by one, her lips trembling,  “What kind of tumor is it? How is it treated? Is it hereditary? Are his brothers also at risk?”

In December of the same year, I spent my 16th birthday in the hospital, getting tests done. A little more than a week after that, I finally went to have the biopsy. The next day, the results came back. They told me I had an extremely rare auto-immune disease called lymphocytic hypophisitis. Apparently there were only three hundred cases. Since it was relatively easy  to treat, I thought I could finally breathe a sigh of relief. I was wrong.

The tumor spread from my pituitary to my optic nerves, and I started to go blind. For the next seven months, I fought to maintain my vision. August came, and my doctor was getting frantic. At an appointment with my neuro-ophthalmologist, Dr . Tamhankar, I hit another speed-bump in the road of life.

“The treatment isn’t working. We looked back at the pathology and noticed a few unusual cells. I’m going to consult with oncology to see what options we have.” The worried expression on her face told me that things were looking bleak.

Despite weekly trips to the hospital, I was rapidly losing vision, and the medicines that I was taking at the time were not working. By this point, Dr. Tamhankar decided to send the biopsy slide with the tumor tissue on it to the National Cancer Institute in Washington. The did some tests on the tissue.

“It’s a type of cancer called germinoma. It’s very rare, but should be easy to treat,” Dr. Tamhankar seemed relieved.

From August 22nd to September 25th, I was treated with proton therapy, a type of radiation. Some parts of the treatment were better than others. I even made some friends while I was at the hospital. One of them was a man named Steve. He was another patient with cancer. Everyday, he was always smiling. Steve could never have a bad day, despite fighting both cancer and kidney failure. To top off his great personality, he had a voice that would make the best of actors weep.

“I bet that’s what God sounds like,” my mom remarked.

“I was thinking the same thing!”

About halfway through the treatment, I told Steve I would probably turn into Spider-man ad a result of the radiation. He laughed, and said, “Well I guess you can look forward to climbing walls!”

The single, most beautiful moment in my life happened a week or two after that joke. The radiation clinic had a bell for patients to ring after their final treatment. After losing most of my vision, isolating myself from everyone to keep my friends from sharing in my pain, and making innumerable trips to the hospital, it was finally my turn to ring the bell. Steve had already completed his treatment for the day, however he knew it was my last day, so he stayed behind to see me ring the bell. The technicians working the proton machine gave me a hug and told me to come back to visit at my next follow-up appointment.

I walked to the bell, nervous. Although I had no clue why, I was shaking. I suppose it was because I couldn’t really believe the final day of treatment was finally over. I gave the bell a gentle tap. I have never heard a sound so beautiful and so pure. I doubt I’ll ever hear a sound that fantastic ever again. Everyone clapped and cheered. One of the men who scheduled appointments there said “I thought for sure you’d break that thing!”

On the way out, I rode up in the elevator with Steve. I got out on a different floor than did he.

“Best of luck to ya, Spider-man!” He shouted with a grin.

That was it. I may never see my friend Steve again, but I think about him often. He showed me that even in the worst, lowest moments in our lives, the only thing we can do is keep pushing forward, to fight with a smile on our faces. He was the embodiment of a fantastic quote by Aristotle, which has shaped every decision I have made since meeting him. “Suffering becomes beautiful when anyone bears great calamities with cheerfulness, not because of insensibility, but because of strength of mind.”

I will never forget you, Steve.