I was born in 1993, yet it’s 2016 and I only consider myself to be 10 years old. Everyone said there might be a chance that everything would get back to normal, but who’s to say what is actually normal. My name is Avi Khanian, and this is my cancer story.
I had a great childhood. Grew up in a loving family, with caring parents, and a brother who was a year younger than me. We would always play video games together ever since the first Nintendo came out. We grew up together playing, fighting, and having each other’s back. At the age of 12, I transferred to a new school. My first day of school was like no ordinary day at school. An 8th grader put his hands around my shoulder, introduced himself and showed me around the whole school. Mind you, I was transferring into 7th grade and I was a year younger than him. Due to my height, and matured mustache, he assumed I too was in 8th grade. He soon found out, yet he still introduce me to all of his friends. Ever since I can remember, it was rather easy for me to make friends. At the time I was an athlete; playing basketball, soccer, and karate. I was soon to be nominated for the most athletic player of the grade. One day everything changed.
I was home and just got out of the shower. All of a sudden, my mother entered my room as I was changing; she thought I called her. I screamed and told her to get out. As she was about to leave she saw a small bump on my thigh. The next day, I was sitting in a room with babies crying, waiting for my pediatrician. He looked at me and said to my mother that everything was fine, and that it’s just a sport injury. My mother disagreed, and requested to have more testing done. After that visit, my mother ended up calling the office a total of 35 times. It took the doctor a whole five days to finally give me a prescription for an MRI. After the scans came out, the images showed a tumor on my right thigh. The technician said it will take several days if not a week for the official report to come from the radiologist. My mother and I, took the images and together we ended up seeing 11 doctors; five pediatric doctors, three dermatologists, two orthopedic doctors, and one surgeon.
After getting multiple second opinions, I decided to do surgery, rather than a biopsy, to remove the whole tumor. The surgery took place on April 13, 2006. It is important to note, that it was here, that I first took an active role in my treatment. Although my mother has been on my side since day one, it was I who made the decision to remove the whole tumor rather than do a biopsy. If I was going to go under, I would rather the surgeon remove the whole tumor than me return to do a second surgery. Several weeks after my mother initially came into my room, I was back in school with crutches. To be honest, I loved the attention. People opening doors for me, my friends holding my backpack, and I even had access to the elevator. If anyone asked, I said it was a soccer injury. One week passed and we still hadn’t heard anything. Two weeks passed, no news. Three weeks, I was off my crutches, but still no news.
Three Words: A Changed Life
It’s May 13th and my parents asked me to come to the TV room. My mother is crying, and my dad has his hands crossed and is pacing back and forth. My father then told me “Okay, Avi. I’m going to be straightforward and honest with you. Your results came back from Boston.” I replied, “Boston! What’s my slides doing up in Boston?” My dad then explained, “UCLA tried but couldn’t diagnosis the tumor and they shipped your slides to Boston. The results came back… you have cancer. It is called Ewing’s Sarcoma. Tomorrow we are all going together to UCLA and we will meet the doctors. I don’t want you to worry, we have one of the best types of health insurance, and you will be under good care.”
At this point, I fell quiet. I reflected on what I just heard…Then a sudden feeling of reassurance came to me. My best friend in 2nd grade was also diagnosed with cancer. I visited his house every week and played basketball with him and his older brothers. I told myself, if he made it in 2nd grade, then I can make it in 7th grade.
And Thus Began The Treatment Phase
I had a total of 40 cycles of chemotherapy, 30 sessions of radiation and three surgeries. The other two surgeries were to install and remove my port-a-cath. For those of you who may not know, a port-a-cath is an implanted device that facilitates the transmission of chemo. Due to chemotherapy’s ability to destroy any fast growing cells, chemo is toxic and can damage skin, muscle tissue, and sometimes veins if not administered properly.
I was treated in-patient for intense chemotherapy that alternated between three days to a whole week in the hospital. Getting chemotherapy is a bitch. Pardon my language, but it really is. When you go in for treatment, it looks like your walking into a nuclear power plant. The nurses hook you up to a beeping machine. They are suited up in hazmat suits and gloves. There is a big nuclear sign on the bag, and before they administer this so called “medication” they have to verify your name and your age through your wristband. Then right as the machine turns on, they quickly leave the room.
I was treated in a pediatric ward of the hospital where a majority of my roommates were half my age. I was lucky to have a handful of roommates who were a year or two apart from me. On one specific day day, I had a roommate who was only about three years old. He and I were alone in the room, and we were both getting chemo at the same time. As I turn to see how he is doing, I noticed he was jumping up and down his mattress, laughing. At first I was a little irritated. How can this kid be having fun while we’re being treated for cancer? Then the more he jumped, the more I realized his playfulness was changing my attitude about the whole situation. So, I got up and started jumping up and down my bed. Even though the nurse came in and got upset with me not only for the jumping, but for denting my mattress, my whole perspective on treatment had changed. I was the class clown again, but this time in the hospital. Very soon other patients requested for me to be their roommate whenever I would come in for treatment. Being the social butterfly that I am, I used to walk around my ward, pop my head into patient’s rooms, and check in on my new friends.
Finding Control, Feeling Empowered
Throughout my treatment, my grandma would always tell me, “Avi, visualize yourself a year or two from now, finished with treatment, telling people your story and laughing.” I used to think she was crazy, but the more she told me, the more I believed in myself. Going into treatment, I already knew what the placebo effect was. I knew how one’s mindset can make a big difference on how successful treatment can be. I told myself if there really is a placebo effect, then I am going to imagine and believe that everything that I’m taking, everything that I am doing, is working and destroying any cancer cells in my body.
About halfway through treatment, I had the opportunity to play Re-Mission. At first I wasn’t sure what to think about the game. It took place inside the body, and from what I could remember it looked like I was in a Magic School Bus episode being transported into the blood stream. I enjoyed visualizing and seeing what my cancer could look like. For what the game was at the time, it gave me another perspective on my cancer. Often times, cancer can feel like just a word. A general word that is associated with so many things and side effects. When I played Re-Mission, I was put in a situation where I could literally see the cancer cells in the blood stream, and this time there was something that I could do.
The Next Chapter
Thanks to the help of my parents, the support of my brother, my grandma who helped me visualize what survivorship would look like, and my amazing medical staff, I had finally beat cancer at the age of 13. Now my next chapter, was to reconnect with old friends from middle school and transitioning into high school…
Avi Khanian is an intern working with the Adolescent & Young Adult Cancer team at Hopelab. Avi recently graduated from UC Santa Barbara, majoring in psychology. He currently is the California State Representative for TeenCancerAmerica and has helped UCLA create one of the first Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer units in the greater Los Angeles area. Avi’s passion is to foster relationships between patients, and inspire resiliency through his story.