Cancer… Cancer. I thought only adults could get this. I never thought I would. On May 24, 2007, I was waiting in a little dark room at Kaiser not knowing what was happening nor what was going to happen. I was sitting in a wheel chair holding my mom’s hand, waiting for the doctor to come in and just say I had a broken leg – not wanting to hear the words the doctor was about to say, “Samantha the pain in your leg is being caused by a tumor.” Those words were like a knife stabbing through my body the tears just seemed to fall like rain. He said it could be cancer or just a regular tumor, but the only way to find out was to do a needle biopsy that night. As they got me ready for the biopsy, all I thought of was the tumor. I didn’t know what cancer was so I didn’t worry about that. While laying on the bed and trying to relax and stay calm, I couldn’t stop my tears. They stuck a needle that seem like it was two feet long in my right knee with a camera on the end of it I was watching them the whole time seeing the blood drip every where, them moving the camera in my knee around, them taking parts of the tumor out. About an hour later we were able to go home and the results would be back in about seven days.
Home didn’t seem the same after being told I had a tumor. My house seemed to always have people over and everyone was always trying to make me smile. We didn’t let too many people know what was going on only because I wasn’t comfortable with people knowing I had a tumor. Days went by not knowing what was wrong. The fear on my mom’s face got worse each minute of the day. The phone call we were all waiting for turned out to be a call that we didn’t want to hear. The doctor told my mom that the results of the needle biopsy came back inconclusive and that we needed to have another biopsy which would mean surgery in Oakland.
June 7, 2007, at 6:00 am: I arrived on the 2nd floor of Oakland’s Kaiser. My best friend Margaret had come with my mom and step-dad. As they were getting the operating room ready, they were giving me all kinds of meds to take that were making me supper goofy and tired. I was in a ugly gown with a weird hat on my head. As they were ready to push me out, I was screaming for my mom and they wouldn’t let her come with me. They had me on the bed and told me they were putting some laughing gas in me and I would feel all happy and calm. They told me to count back from 10. I only remember getting to eight. Waking up in the recovery room I was confused, sick, drugged, and just very upset. I could’’t stop crying or puking. I was so miserable. I have never felt that way. I was in recovery for about three hours. They weren’t sure if they were going to let me go home since I wasn’t coming out of all the drugs the way I should have. Finally, I was sent home laying in the back seat drugged up on pain killers out of my mind. I was finally waking up and becoming more talkative and, of course, the house was full of people all making sure I was ok. This time we had to wait about six or seven days for the results.
June 12, 2007, the day my life changed: My mom was told I had osteosarcoma in the right femur/knee. She couldn’t believe it – her 12-year-old daughter had cancer. That evening my mom came home and the look on her face wasn’t too good. She said, “Baby girl you know I love you. But the doctor called and said that the results came back and you do have cancer.” Those words killed me. I just sat there letting the tears run from my face. I still didn’t know what cancer was, but I knew it wasn’t good. I stayed in my room all the time. I didn’t want anyone knowing I was sick. The days seemed to go by so slowly and I just couldn’t get over the fact I, Samantha Ashburn, had cancer.
June 14, 2007: I met with my new-to-be family, A.K.A my oncology doctors. I had three of them. My family and I met with the head oncology doctor and I did not like him. He went over the chemo I would be on, the things to expect, what would happen to me, my survival rate for the kind of cancer I had (there was only 80 percent chance I would make it), and so many other things. He then told me that I was going to lose my hair!! I had long brown beautiful hair and there was no way I was going to lose it. I told him I would rather die than be bald. When I said that the look on everyone’s face was shock. Before I could start chemo I needed to do all these tests and get a broviac put in my chest. When hearing all of what the doctors had to say, my family and I just wanted to wake up one day and wish it was a nightmare. All I could think of was, “Why Me? What did I do to deserve this? Was it cause I talked back to my mom? Didn’t listen?” Those are questions my doctors or family could not answer. I started doing my own research and talking to other kids with my type of cancer. I then got some faith that everything was going to be all right and I could make it through this battle. A week before I started chemo, my older brother told me he would shave his head with me which was a shocker. He loves his hair. So my mom took us to get our hair cut. He shaved his first then next was me. When the lady cut my pony tail off I broke down in tears. I could not shave it so I got it super short and after that I got to dye it hot pink.
June 19, 2007, first round of chemo: I was sore after getting my broviac put in that morning. I was tired and scared of not knowing what was going to happen, not knowing if I was really going to get sick. I remember the first five minutes of chemo I was feeling good, not sick or anything. Right after I told that to my mom it changed. I was crying, screaming, puking, and just felt like crap. Words can’t explain how bad it was. The sickness lasted for three days – the worse days in my life. Each chemo round had its ups and downs. Some were fine, some were just awful. I learned what medications worked the best or just made me forget about everything. After about four rounds and not eating, I stared losing weight dramatically. I went from 110 pounds to only 82.5 pounds in only four weeks. I had to get 16 feeding tubes, but that didn’t stop me from losing the weight. I kept losing weight day after day. I would just lay in my room looking at the ceiling, depressed and lonely even though I had my family, friends, and community. I still felt like I was in a cave. No one there knew how I felt or what I was going though. They didn’t understand my pain.
About two months in to chemo I started meeting some cancer kids that I knew would understand me and my pain. I meet Ben who was a boy who had cancer in his eyes and they were removed at age two, but he never let that stop him from doing things. Ben could always make you smile and laugh he was so funny and his faith for god was so amazing. Then I meet Jesse who had a similar cancer as me and boy was he so funny. We would talk for hours and hours about things. He was like my brother. Next I meet my big sister Becky. We shared so much besides the same cancer we had. I could go to her for anything and we told each other so much. Then I got to meet Austin, this funny laid back nice caring person. We hit it off so well and we always would hang out in the hospital and tell jokes, too. I also got close with the nurses – my 2nd family. A few months went by and we did the same thing: chemo, home, hospital. I was bald and not too happy about it but, I was getting over the “ I HATE MY LIFE” stage and accepting the fact that I had cancer. The best part of having cancer was the friends I met, the things I go to do like be on TV. I always tried to make sure I never let cancer bring me down. I figured that if I have to deal with this then I’m going to use it the max and I sure did. I became close with all my nurses and staff. Finally I was down to only 10 rounds of chemo and the countdown was on. When I made it to round 3, I had a stroke from all the chemo which made me go to ICU for about two weeks. Then I got to go back to the ward which was my family. I felt to out of place in ICU and the people there were just not that kind. I had to end chemo early because it started to hurt me rather than help me.
February 14, 2008, CANCER FREE : Valentine’s day was the best day in my life, but it was also a sad day. It’s a strange thing to say, but it’s true. Hearing that I was cancer free and wasn’t going to receive any chemo made me cry for a year. All I’ve known was chemo, the hospital, needles, pain, sickness, fevers, rashes, and much more. Then to just stop it was hard because I had become close to my nurses and all the staff at Kaiser. It hurt leaving them but I knew it was for the best.
My life started to get back to normal. I started school. My hair was growing back and I was meeting new friends. Everything seemed to be prefect , until I got the news that my best friend Ben was dying of cancer and that there was nothing else they could do for him. I got to seem him two days before he passed away and I think that was the hardest thing in my life, giving him one last hug and seeing him look so weak and sick. He passed away on January 19, 2009. Then on January 20, 2009, I received the news that my “big sister” passed away from cancer. She wasn’t really my sister, but we became so close and shared so many things. I wasn’t able to say goodbye to her, but I knew she was sick she told me she was dying. Half of me didn’t want to believe it. I was severely depressed about losing them. I just wanted to give up on life and I pretty much did. Then three months later I got the news my other friend Jesse passed away. On my 14th birthday I went to his funeral. After losing my friends it was like my heart was just torn and gone. I only had one friend left that I met who had cancer and thought of losing him was hard. I’m happy to say he’s doing really good.
Cancer came with many struggles. Some seemed impossible to overcome, but I did. I couldn’t have done it with out my family and friends. Even though my three closest friends aren’t here on earth, they’re still with me in my heart and they are my motivation. I can honestly say having cancer has changed me and my life in many ways and that I know what it means to fight and live life!
Samantha sadly relapsed May 7, 2010. Samantha had just celebrated her 15th birthday a few weeks prior. Samantha also was just about to start summer practice with the Pioneer Cheer Squad. Samantha made cheer leader!! My baby with a prosthetic knee and titanium femur was a cheer leader. Samantha gave it her all and she was excited to be finishing her freshman year of high school and ready to be a Junior. Samantha had her life planned. She knew what she wanted to do and where she wanted to be in her life at a certain age.
Samantha was given one year to be with me. Samantha enjoyed many trips in 2010. The favorite of all was New York City. We stayed in lower Manhattan and had a fabulous memorable time. We also went the Bahamas and stayed a week. Sammi loved the beach.
Sadly, Samantha started slowing down and her body was changing. Sammi knew she was starting to die and all she wanted was to have a Sweet 16th Birthday Party, like she and I always talked about while she was growing up. Through tremendous pain and being drugged so bad, so she could be at her party. Samantha’s Nurse Practitioner found an experimental treat from severe bone pain. It was a concoction of three strong narcotics (the names I have forgotten how to spell). Samantha enjoyed a wonderful 16th birthday party on April 21, 2011. Samantha had a DJ and 100 friends, not including at least 80 family members, celebrate the time of her life. Samantha was over the moon when she received a phone call from Emenim, a rap artist she loved. Samantha got up and did Karaoke with me and her best friend. I just couldn’t believe it – here was my baby girl on the verge of dying, smiling and singing as she was in so much pain, pain that nobody in this lifetime will ever know.
Samantha earned her wings on April 28, 2011. Sweet 16 Forever.
If you or a loved one has been impacted by sarcoma cancer, we encourage you to share your story. Sharing your story can be such an inspiration to others who are dealing with sarcoma in their own life and remind us all of the urgency to find better treatments in order to make an impact on the devastation that sarcoma cancer brings. Let your experiences help others become involved with raising awareness!