As told to Britt Julious
They say that a cat has nine lives.
I’ve always loved big cats. Cheetahs. Tigers. Pumas. But the lion captivated my curiosity. Lions enjoy challenges, variety and change. While I didn’t enjoy the challenges of becoming a two-time survivor of bilateral osteosarcoma at just 13 and 14 years old, I can say with confidence that those experiences strengthened my lionlike attributes, like persistence and drive.
On March 7, 1991, days before my 13th birthday, I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in my right distal femur. Chemo, limb-salvage surgery and remission one month ahead of protocol followed. LION! In February 1992, I was discharged and reentering teenage life. Whether I was belting Mr. Big’s ballad “To Be With You” or headbanging with Wayne and Garth, I was ecstatic to be bald-headed and alive.
By August 1992, I was a teenage boy heading into high school with a full head of hair and a girlfriend to run her fingers through it. For freshman English, we wrote a paper and delivered a speech on what we hated, loved or feared. I opened my heart to my classmates and shared my vulnerability and healthy fear of recurrence. Not a week later, and just seven months into remission, I was rediagnosed.
My oncologist urged my mom to take me home and let me live out my days as healthy and happy as possible. “Buck up mom, it’s going to be a brutal death,” he said. He saw no way I would survive a second primary tumor, and he was certain that if the cancer didn’t kill me, the aggressive and intense chemotherapy would. But with the strength of my pride by my side, we slayed that Sahara.
Twenty-seven years and 23 knee replacements or revisions later, as the only known survivor of my diagnosis, I’m thriving and living a life that is blessed beyond belief, a life full of endless miracles that befuddles everyone I meet. I’m married to the love of my life whom I met as volunteers at cancer camp. We adopted three beautiful sons in four years. And I’m living my purpose as the founder of The Ability Center, a nonprofit ensuring that people of all abilities can play together. I know firsthand that every parent should be able to play with their child, and every kid should be able to play with their siblings and peers. I cried alone, staring out of my living room window watching my siblings and friends play without me. If I can spare one child from living through that exclusion, I’ve done my job. I look forward to everything this new life holds.