In His Own Words
Get To Know Mikey Through His Writings
Written by Mikey shortly after the formation of the foundation that bears his name:
Herein Contained: A Cure for Cancer
“You know, Michael” he began in his soft, quieting voice, “there are people who leave this hospital and are never cured.” I trembled, and my universe disquieted. “They live the rest of their lives always thinking the cancer will come back, always sure that any pain or irregularity is recurrent cancer.” I nodded my head obediently. Whether or not I fully understood, I didn’t want to examine his claim any further. It can be difficult, sitting there in that chair, legs dangling over the rustle of that ominous butcher paper, like meat ready to be cured. In this same room you receive the best and worst information of your life. It is the place you hear, “We didn’t get the best results from your scans,” or the place you hear, “The chemo is working better than we could have ever hoped for.” Such innate duality exists there. You are either elated with joy, or subject to unpleasant, painful points pounding away at you, until you are too tender to attest, like meat being cured.
Only later would I fully digest what my doctor had told me. Cured does not mean disease free. If you live your life in fear of cancer, you have succumbed to the disease. Fear is a distraction, diverting your attention from the true beauty of life. The small things. Life’s beauty dwells in the rush of adrenaline. It floats on the new-fallen snow, plotting a noiseless descent, ready to provide its clean blanket for all who’ll receive it. It hides quietly in life’s obscure possibilities, those things we take for granted: I never before hoped I could be an uncle to my brother’s children. It waits; it will not find. Find it, and then be free of life’s only true ailment. If you are not free to live, you have not been cured. You have not survived. You are dead.
And so I have tried to live my life by this advice and spread it like the anti-cancer to all I meet. The cure is contagious, like a smile. Nay, it is a smile. Walking down the hall of a cancer ward, I see myself in every bald, pale child; in every lonely pair of disheartened eyes; and in every breathing statistic. I approach a child, bearing a cart overflowing with gifts, and a nurse whispers in my ear, “I haven’t seen him smile like that in months.” The cure has metastasized.
There is a pressing importance to remind pediatric cancer patients that life exists outside of cancer. It can be easy to forget this when you have spent five weeks in a hospital room, or when you have been in treatment for three years. And for a moment, the cancer patients are just kids again, even if for only one, short moment. As I sit here writing this, I am not done with treatment. I have many rounds of chemo before me. But I am cured.
This next piece was written about one year into Michael’s treatment. He was 16 at the time.
A Moment in a Two-Month
Time is relative to the observer. Humans conspired together to invent the second as a means of measuring time intervals. Everyone lives by the second. It dictates the hour, days, weeks, months, and years. And the calendar keeps our engagements to the second in order. But time is relative to the observer. I am not bound to the second. Rather, I measure time in two-month intervals. When you think about it, both measurements are equally arbitrary; both are equally indifferent to the intrinsic behavior of existence. Only here’s the difference: my time interval is important; your second is meaningless.
Time is the only undefeatable army. Time burned Rome, and arrived before city gates as a Trojan horse, and stumbled upon the New World. Time invaded Omaha beach, crossed the Rhine, and dropped the Atomic bomb. Time will kill you. But time is relative to the observer. I didn’t always count in two-month intervals. No, there was a time, many two-months ago, when the hands of my clock ticked away in seconds. I kept my eye on that clock and the hand of old grandfather time as it marched in circles. Whether it was a simpler time is debatable, I guess relative to the observer. You see, one day in my first year of high school I was counting the time away in seconds when I felt a pain in my stomach. Many seconds later, about 604,800 seconds in fact, I went in for an ultra sound. When I came out the face of my watch had smashed, and the cogs no longer spun, and the hand no longer marched.
It has been about 15 two-months since that fateful day in March of 2004. I still receive chemotherapy regularly, about once every 0.115 two-months. But probably the most decisive days of treatment are scans. Scans occur once every two-month exactly. Exactly. And so I count time from scan to scan. You see, if time is going to defeat me, it will be on the turning of a two-month. With this knowledge, I strive to find the time to live in between the dreadful two-month interval.
But it is difficult sometimes. As I sit here, pondering my upcoming scans in about 0.05 two-months, I think: if all goes well I’ll get to live carefree until around December. Or I think: what fun things do I have planned before the next two-month. I always think about what events buffer the next two-month, and I look forward to these buffers with excitement. After all, you never know what two-month could be your last.
I have become very efficient at overcoming the two-month. I live my life savoring every moment. That’s right: the moment. The best time measurement of all. Don’t count in your arbitrary second. I shouldn’t count in my foreboding two-month. Count in the moment. Every time I hang out with a friend, every time I complete some work for school or for sport with pride, every time a see a child with cancer smile as I hand him a gift, every time I touch someone I love, the grand clock ticks. And the hand of time marches on in the moment.
This is possibly one of Michael’s most insightful pieces:
Execute at Will
If you were condemned to an early death, would you sleep? Would you waste precious moments of human experience to indulge the guilty pleasures of dreams? If changing tides of chance crashed down upon you, would you wade submissively in their current? Or would you fight to reach golden sand? Between life and death, between battle and surrender, between hope and truth, there lies a choice. And the choice is ours to make.
My fight began as if out of a biblical whirlwind. The news rained on the forty days and forty nights of my worst fantasies. It was not conveyed by a burning bush, or by a disciple of God, but by a doctor – cancer. And so I chose not to wade, but to fight. Scarcely does the world see such silent battles, as if fought completely under the ocean of the soul. I submerged myself in this quest, whose purpose was survival, evasion, and securing that which my peers already had unknowingly: the future.
There was an old me. He got cancer and is no longer with us. But it was not cancer alone that put him to rest. It was my conscious choice. I needed to reinvent myself, to garner the tools that would sustain me through such trying times. The new me was born from a womb of ordeal, bred with the sole purpose of survival. I fought the cancer with the most potent protocols practiced by medicine: high dose chemotherapy, surgeries, radiation, and a stem cell transplant. But I also fought with humor. I realized early on that you only have one life, one chance to be happy. So, while other patients lied sick in bed, I chased family around the halls with my I.V. pole. I laughed despite, or perhaps in spite of, the grave scene. Discolored liquids march down clear, thin tubes. They plunge from the incessant drip, drip, drip of the pump and swoop back up to nestle deep in my chest. The intimate smell of plastic; the penetrating white fluorescent lighting reflecting off taupe and colorless tile; the sterile, lemon scented air dry enough to discharge blood from the nostrils. And the impending possibility of failure as unpleasant, painful points pound away at you until you are too tender to attest, like meat being cured. All of these things could not falter my spirit. While others dreaded their fate and cursed their maker, I joked about the finer points of my circumstance. What luck gets a 1 in 2 million cancer anyway?
While others shuddered at the specific details of their disease, I seized it as an opportunity to learn. My thirst for knowledge could not be torn asunder by cancer. I constantly questioned the biology and science of my disease from the specific transmutation of the Wilm’s tumor gene and the Ewing’s gene, to the specific pathway with which certain chemos interfere with cell reproduction. And I found a calling in oncology.
The submerged battle rages on. I come to the surface for air just long enough to retain the strength to continue. The new me is equipped with unique tools of seeing opportunities of humor and knowledge where others see only despair. That is my choice. And one fine day I will pick myself up out of the water, the foolish escapades of the past washed away, but still toting along my tools.