cancer

Closure

Steven C. Anderson

Mortal Man

Closure

By: Steven C. Anderson

Can you ever truly get closure?

July 6, 1974 - 6 years before I was born, my uncle Cedric was murdered. The details of his death, almost 40 years ago are still unclear. All I recall being told is where he was found. His body was found in Allen Park near the old Veterans Administration Hospital. He was shot in the head and left to die. At the time, the news reported it as a John Doe. The fact that his name was never mentioned always bothered my mother. Even today, when a death is reported as unidentified or “John Doe” it strikes a nerve because as she puts it; “that’s someone’s son, daughter, mother, or father.” Growing up we were always told, “someone needs to know where you’re at.” Back then, it seemed extreme but as an adult it makes all the sense in the world. How do you not have a little PTSD after losing your brother? A brother that was a few months away from fatherhood being taken away so violently before his baby girl was born. A daughter who would now grow up never knowing her father. Living this experience through stories and a few photos has always been “different” but it’s especially close to my heart because his name “Cedric” is my middle name. Most people don’t use their middle name often, but I’ve always made it a point to use mine as a connection.    

Late March 1997, I lost another uncle. This time it wasn’t violence but lung cancer. My uncle Sonny was one of the coolest dudes around. Everyone in the neighborhood loved and admired him. He loved sports, loved people, but above all, loved his family. He was a big baseball fan and would always take us down to the old Tiger Stadium to sit in the bleachers. He was diagnosed with lung cancer around 1994 or 1995. This was a shock to everyone because he wasn’t a smoker. He went through a few rounds of chemo therapy but seemed to be coming out on the other side of it.

I was only 16 at the time and I knew something was going on with his health but didn’t really know it was cancer. I knew it was serious when he showed up with a bald head. He always had fairly long dreadlocks so that was a reality shock to everyone. His brother (my uncle) decided to shave his head in support… “more on him later.”  Back in ’97, we didn’t have google so I kind of had to piece the seriousness of his illness together on my own. In early ’97 his health started to fade, he was hospitalized a lot. I had just got my full driver’s license and the first time my parents allowed me to drive a car alone without an adult was to visit him in the hospital. Although I knew he was sick seeing him in a hospital bed withering away made it real. But through it all he always wanted to talk about sports and particularly how I was doing in baseball. His first question to me was always “have you been wearing those ankle weights on your wrists?” And “are you playing in your glasses?” I didn’t even think my glasses did anything for me back then but looking back I really couldn’t see. Who knows how much better I’d have been if I did wear those glasses. 

Easter was approaching and he was still fighting. Our high school baseball team was scheduled to travel to Florida for Spring Training over Easter vacation. It was a trip I’d really been looking forward to taking. We were going for training but there was a lot of fun planned too. We were staying and playing at the Disney Wide World of Sports. It wasn’t even open yet, we were going to be a part of the inaugural training season. About three weeks before we were set to leave my uncle was placed in hospice. I learned this from overhearing adult conversation. Again, 1997 - no smart phone, no google, I had no idea what hospice was but I knew it couldn’t be good because he was leaving the hospital. Why would someone so sick leave the hospital? He still fought until he couldn’t. Two days before we were set to travel he passed. I was hurt. I really looked forward to talking to him about playing at Disney in the Atlanta Braves spring training stadium. The next few days were a fog so I don’t even remember when or how the decision was made that I would go to Florida and miss the funeral. I remember my parents sitting me down and explaining that the funeral would be during the time I would be gone. I did travel with the team and for the most part had a really good time. This was pre-social media and back when long distance calls were expensive so I didn’t have a lot of contact with anyone back home. I did call home from a pay phone at Disney the day of the funeral. Everyone seemed to be doing fine but it was strange not being there with my family. Looking back I don’t regret not being at the funeral. He was so sick for so long that I had time to say my goodbyes and reflect on our relationship. It’s just one of those things… when we think of a loved one that has passed away typically the memories of the funeral come to mind. Again, it was “different” not having that memory.

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Labor Day 2007 was approaching and no one had heard from my uncle Carlton. That was strange because he always popped up on holidays. He would always swing by and drop off a gift or a dish. We were kind of worried but figured maybe he went on vacation. After a few days without contact a missing persons report was filed. We were in contact with the police department and they didn’t suspect any foul play. On Labor Day evening a detective came over and told us that they found a body but couldn’t make a positive ID. They needed my family to come down to the medical examiner to see if an ID could be made. My mom, uncle and aunts went but couldn’t make a decision. It wasn’t like on TV, where they pull a sheet back and you say “yes” or “no.”  They put you in a room with a small crappy black and white monitor. Out of five people none could definitively say that was him. The next day the detectives were able to make appositive ID using his clothes and a tattoo that could still be made out. He had been stabbed multiple times and found dead in a vacant field. The temperature was so hot that his body had started to decompose. 

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There were no leads, no suspects and no motive. Even now, 12 years later we are no closer to getting justice. He had no enemies, no beefs, and no ill will toward anyone. His car was found a block away from the crime with his blood in it. He was in the area because he had purchased a home and was in the process of renovating it. He wasn’t robbed, just stabbed in his car and left to die. To us this was the definition of senseless. He was the type of person that would give you the clothes off of his back. He was honorably discharged from the US Marines, lived in San Diego for a few years, but ultimately returned home to be closer to his family. He had started a career at Chrysler and kept a low profile. He took pride in his home and neighborhood. He was the type of person that would cut his neighbors grass if he saw that it needed to be done. This was the same uncle that shaved his head in support of his brother Cedric that was going through chemo. The circumstances of his death caused us to have a closed casket funeral. At the time I didn’t think anything of that, but as I look back - that along with the losses of my other uncles has had an effect on me. 

Looking back, losing three uncles, “all brothers” left me with a ton of “what ifs” and questions. I always felt as though I didn’t get true closure in one way or another with any of the three deaths. As I grow older my outlook on that has changed. We often use birthdays as a way to celebrate the beginning and we use funerals to celebrate at the end. I’m learning to celebrate the journey. I’m determined to live my life to the fullest while I’m here because memories truly last a lifetime.

 

Closure

By Steven C. Anderson

Son | Husband | Brother | Photographer | Owner of Upscale Photography

You can keep up with Steve on social media.

instagram: @stevencanderson

twitter: @stevencanderson

facebook: Steven C. Anderson

visit his website: upscalephotos.net

Persevere

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mortal man

Persevere

by: Alexander L.A. Huff

Persevere
per·se·vere | /ˌpərsəˈvir/
continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty or with little or no prospect of success.

At the age of (22) I was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL). It was something that just kind of happened out of the blue. It was January, 2017 and at the time I worked a full-time job and attended school at Central State University full-time taking (18) credit hours. My days consisted of going to school and on certain days I would leave class about (20) minutes early to make it to work on time. I worked at a group home for adults with special needs and I loved what I was doing because it tied in to special education which is what I’m studying in school. The reason I took the job is because I believed it would give me a clear picture of what life for my students would be like after the (K-12) educational setting. Many of them go to these adult homes and pretty much live in them forever. They go to dayhabs and work jobs that pay less than minimum wage. These are things that I had no idea or concept of so it’s a job that I’m grateful for. This was my routine for about a year. One night I was at work and felt a little stiffness in my lower back. I didn’t think much of it, I just thought it came from me doing too much.

When I got home I took some pain pills and went to bed. When I woke up the next morning the pain had kinda went away but not completely so I took some more pain medicine and headed off to class. This became a recurring routine for a week or so. Finally the pain got so bad that I couldn’t sleep and driving became difficult because it was too painful for me to sit upright. I went to the emergency room and was diagnosed with a really bad back sprain. I was prescribed pain medicine and sent home. The medicine helped with the pain for about a week but right after that the pain came back and it was so intense this time that I couldn’t attend class or make it into work.

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I went to urgent care and this time I was diagnosed with a really, really bad back sprain so they increased my pain medicine and the pain did seem to go away. It would come back in small spurts but not bad enough to warrant another trip to the ER or urgent care. A bit later I went to my doctor for a routine physical and follow up appointment. She ran tests on me and everything came back normal with the exception of my liver count and white blood cells being slightly elevated but not to a level that would cause any concern. Months went by and the pain returned so I underwent more testing. We did tests for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, leukemia, anemia, all types of things and everything test came back negative. After completing these test and not finding anything my primary doctor referred me to an oncologist.

The oncologist ran multiple tests and again everything came back negative. At this point, I also began having very bad night sweats. I would wake up and my sheets would be completely drenched. I thought”maybe I have the heat up too high” so I turned the heat down that worked for about two weeks before starting back again. I finally mentioned it to my oncologist and it’s so ironic that I did because in that same appointment she felt like the combination of my counts not being off by much along with all the tests coming back normal that she’d release me and see me in a few months. My oncologist told me she’d see me in six months and was about to head out of the door and I said “okay, and oh and by the way I’m having these night sweats and my whole bed is wet.” At the time the numbers from my test results weren’t in the range for Hodgkin’s or Non-Hodkin’s Lymphoma so there appeared no reason to test for them. However, the news of my night sweats changed the whole game and although my counts weren’t in range for Hodgkin’s or non-Hodkin’s lymphoma news of my night sweats prompted her to test me for it. 

It was May and I went home to Cleveland to spend Mother’s Day with my mom. My mother doesn’t like to go through my mail so I had a bunch of envelopes and mail to go through. I had bills from Kettering Medical Center, CompuNet and other places… all of these bills came up to about $12,000. Bills for every test that I had ran and from the emergency room and urgent care visits. I found out that all of these visits and tests were happening outside of our insurance’s network. That forced me to transfer all of my tests and healthcare needs to MetroHealth in Cleveland. The paperwork took some time and MetroHealth wanted to run their own tests on me so that was time consuming as well.

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There would be nights when I would feel so bad that I would question “is this what dying feels like?

In July of 2017, I was at an internship in Boston where I was  one of twenty five students chosen to participate in a program in which we did Mock GRE and Mock Graduate coursework all to help prepare us for grad school. I had to leave the internship early to return to MetroHealth for more tests. When I got to Cleveland they told me that my test results came back positive for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma but that later changed because they really didn’t know if it was Hodgkin’s or non- Hodgkins Lymphoma. I was told that I could return to Boston for the last week and a half of my internship but that when I returned to Cleveland I would have to start chemotherapy. When I got back there was still some confusion about if I had Hodgkin’s or non-Hodgkins Lymphoma but either way a bone marrow test would be required.

The bone marrow test caused the most pain that I have ever experienced in my life! They literally dig inside of your bone to get to the marrow and they’re tapping on it so that’s pretty painful. The test results came back in two days or so. It was determined that the lymphoma had spread into my bones which meant that I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. At this time, I was told by the doctors that it would be in my best interest to withdraw from school because they didn’t think I could handle the workload while going trough chemotherapy. I was already about a semester and a half behind in school so I told them that withdrawing from school was not an option. Sick or not ,I was determined to finish school on my schedule so I was committed to push through. The doctors reluctantly agreed to let me go back to school they just instructed me to reduce my credit hours “they didn’t know it but I still took a full load of classes.” 

I returned to Central State University that fall semester and thankfully all of my teachers and professors were willing to work with me. They were flexible and even allowed me complete most of my work online and attend classes when I felt strong enough. My insurance was still out of network which meant that I had to commute between CSU and Cleveland for my chemotherapy. I would leave CSU on Thursdays to have chemotherapy in Cleveland on Fridays. After chemo I would sleep the rest of the day on Fridays, all day on Saturdays and half of the day on Sundays. On Sunday evenings, I would drive back to CSU for class. Even though I wasn’t physically going to class I still needed to be there to turn in my work and to get any new assignments. It was also better for me mentally. I did this for a few months and my treatments were complete.

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I tried to get my life before cancer back as much as I could. It was very challenging for me mentally because there were times when I would wake up in the middle of the night and wouldn’t feel well at all. There would be nights when I would feel so bad that I would question “is this what dying feels like? Am I going to survive? How is it that this can happen to someone like me that has been fairly healthy? Am I going to make it through this?” All of these questions would cross my mind. In these hours I would have to dig deep and really call on my faith. I would remind myself that I haven’t been brought this far just to be dumped off here. I know that better things are coming. I just have to endure all of the sickness and emotions and then also not to forget my own purpose and why I was planted here. So holding onto that faith is what helped me get through because it was a very, very difficult time. I went back for MetroHealth for scans and there was some confusion about the results. Eventually they said that my cancer was in remission.

This past summer I went back for scans and they determined that they wanted to send me back through another round of tests. This time I was under an insurance plan that allowed me to have things done at The James “which is Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.” After undergoing all of the tests they found that the cancer had returned and began going over different treatment options. Since the first treatment method of (R-CHOP) chemotherapy didn’t work they decided that they would try the (RICE) regimen followed by a stem cell transplant.  This meant that they would take my own stem cells; cleanse them and then freeze them until it was time to replace them. Essentially they were taking out my old immune system and replacing it with a new one. This process required six consecutive days of around the clock chemotherapy and a hospital stay of (21) days in which I would be allowed to have visitors but they would be required to wear gowns and masks.

It seemed like a daunting task but my whole motto throughout all of this was “Do what you have to do to survive. Do what you have to do to make it to the next day.” I knew it wouldn’t feel good but if it’s going to improve my quality of life and if it’s going to improve how I live life I have to do what I have to do to make it to the next day. With all of this in mind I embarked on this journey again, this time with a different regimen all while still trying to make it through school. All of my classwork at Central State was done and I was at a point where it was just a matter of completing my student teaching. I had twelve weeks of student teaching that I needed to do so I asked the doctors “how can I make this happen with chemotherapy and student teaching?” The doctors weren’t sure if it was possible and tried to talk me out of it. My overachieving spirit wouldn’t accept that answer so I put a plan in place.

This time around my chemotherapy was a lot more intense than the first time so my bounce back wasn’t as strong as I thought it would be. After the first round of treatment I went back to school and felt pretty good. The second round of treatment was a lot more taxing and I had a hard time even making it into the house without throwing up. I’d go to sleep and wake up feeling like I hadn’t been to sleep at all. That’s what chemo does to you. It's a toxic treatment that drains you physically. I suffered a lot of pain, I lost a lot of weight as well as all of the hair on my body. It also effects you mentally. Most people are prepared for not physically feeling well but we often overlook the mental aspect. That’s something that took it’s toll on me. I saw myself healthy and vibrant and then all of a sudden I looked as though I had a foot in the grave - that does something to you mentally. To see yourself with hair and then with no hair at all anywhere; no eyebrows, no mustache, no beard… no hair anywhere on your body - that does something to you mentally. To see all of the weight loss where your clothes no longer fit you anymore and they all fall off of your body - that does something to you mentally. Going out in public wearing a mask and seeing people stare at you - that does something to you mentally.

There were times I felt as if I was fighting three battles at once. I was trying to maintain and make it through school. I was try to keep afloat mentally while fighting for my life, “it’s me or the disease. How do I fight this fight over something that I see wipe people out every day of the week?” I reached a point where I finally stopped going to school and I stopped working. I was living off of support from my family and the money that I had in my savings account. A huge weight was lifted from my shoulders once the chemo was complete. I still had concerns though because I had been here before. You can end chemotherapy but that doesn’t mean that you’re healthy.

It was time for the stem cell transplant and that was very trying. There were times that I couldn’t eat because I still had sores in my mouth from chemotherapy. There were times where I would throw up on myself because I couldn’t make it to the restroom or to the barf bag. When I was going through all of this I was still trying to do my schoolwork so that I could still stay afloat in school. I got out of the hospital and still needed to complete my student teaching. My family and friends told me that I really needed to take it easy. I told them that I would but I needed to get back and for many reasons. I needed to finish school for my own mental well being and also I had ran out of financial aid and if I didn’t finish that would cause me to have to pay out of pocket along with a few other concerns.

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I was back in school three weeks after leaving the hospital so the turnaround time was quick but it was something that I had to do for myself. I just finished student teaching last Thursday and graduation is May 4th. I was able to maintain my honor role status and I finally feel like “I did it!” I know I didn’t do it alone. I definitely didn’t do it alone. God is definitely amazing and good. Without God, I wouldn’t have made it through cancer the first time let alone the second time. So here I am. My cancer is gone, it’s currently in remission. For the first time in two years, I feel like I know what my health looks like. I know what’s going on with me right now. I am optimistic that my future will be great and that my status of being a cancer survivor will be just that, a “survivor”. I will never again have to say that I am a cancer “patient” again. So much comes with that. People hear the word “cancer patient” and they immediately count you out. They look at you like you have an expiration date over you that is soon to run out. 

I aspire to be a beacon of hope for somebody to know that you have a disease but the disease doesn’t have you. You can still live a full life and have cancer. My mission is to show people that you can sill live life on your term. You can still be upbeat and positive about life when you're battling cancer. Overall, I feel blessed and fortunate. I will graduate from Central State University with a degree in Education. I didn’t shelve my goals and dreams. I hope that I have shown people that you can battle cancer with grace, that you can fight through any challenges that may present themselves.

 
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PERSEVERE

Alexander L.A. Huff

Educator | Vocalist | Advocate of Individuals with Special Needs | Fighter | Cancer Survivor

You can keep up with Alexander and offer words of encouragement by leaving comments on the website and by following him on instagram.

@thisisalexander_

Higher Calling

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Mortal Man

Higher Calling

By: Ricardo Navas

I don’t go through life worrying about getting sick or something happening to me because I know that my life is in God’s hands.

When I first learned that my father had cancer I wasn’t really that worried. I felt like he was going to be fine. I felt like he was going to be beat cancer and that he was going to be alright. Even after he had surgery – I felt like he was going to recover and be ok. It was really hard for me to know exactly how he was feeling because when I was around him he would act as though he was doing fine but in reality he was in a lot of pain. I realize now that my dad was doing this to keep me, our family and everyone else from being sad. He didn’t want us to feel sorry for him or to get depressed. I think as a father, as a leader, as the man of the house he felt like that’s what he had to do. Even in his last moments my dad was hopeful and did not want us to be sad.

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When my father passed away it really hit me that I was closer to him than I was to my mother. With my dad it was like we were friends, he was my father but we were really close. We talked a lot and we were open about everything. So his death hit me really hard. It made me realize that this could happen to me so I need to be prepared. I have to take care of my family, make sure I have life insurance and my affairs in order.  I also thought about what my family’s life would be like if I was no longer here. So you become more vulnerable when you realize that this can happen to you too. At the same time I know that God is in control. When he says that it is my time it is “my time.”  So I don’t go through life worrying about getting sick or something happening to me because I know that my life is in God’s hands.

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A few years ago I was involved in a fatal car accident. I was hurt really bad and I nearly died but it wasn’t my time.  God said “it wasn’t my time yet.” I believe that I’m here because I still have work that God wants me to do. God isn’t finished with me. My purpose is here right now. We have to learn to take each and every day as a gift and not worry so much about “what could happen” because fear robs you of your happiness.

Art has always been important to me, creating art is important to me.  I used to be a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter. That helped me realize that martial arts are just a physical way of expressing yourself and creating art. As a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter I was using my body to create art. The injuries I suffered in the car accident prevent me from competing and I missed that feeling. I missed creating art.

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When I do something I do it with passion. I take my time learning the art. I don’t just do it because I “like it.” When I do something I put my heart into it. I felt like I had all these years doing Jiu Jitsu and now I can’t compete anymore, I can no longer use my body to create art. I didn’t know how to paint or how to draw, so I thought “maybe I‘ll be good at taking pictures.”  That’s when I got into photography. That’s when I realized that photography was going to be a new way for me to create art and express myself. Now when people ask me what I do for a living I tell them that I am a photographer. Even though I am an entrepreneur that’s running a successful business I identify myself more as a photographer. My business is a way for me to provide for my family but in my heart photography is my passion.

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Losing my father and being in that car accident has made me “tougher.” One of the last times I cried was when my dad died. Experiencing my father’s fight with cancer and nearly losing my own life just made me realize that those things can and will happen. Now when I see or experience something emotional it’s almost like I’m immune to it.

Another thing I want to talk about is how often things in America is taken for granted. I realize that I have opportunities that other people don’t. I grew up in Venezuela. When I was in second grade I used to walk a mile or more to school by myself. I would see so many disturbing things. I would walk pass dead animals, dead people, I got robbed. It was rough but all of those things made me stronger. When I moved to America I felt like people expected less of me because I was foreign. Even as owning my own business isn’t enough. I don’t look like the typical business owner so... that motivates me to be better, motivates me to prove people wrong.

In Venezuela grew up in without a lot of things so I had a chip on my shoulder. People expected little of me, even my own family. Some of them say, “I’m surprised that you have your own business, that you’re able to capture such good pictures – that you’re doing so well in life.” I felt like people thought I wouldn’t accomplish anything in life so that pushed me.

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I believe Venezuela has the second worst “documented” crime rate in the world. When I grew up it wasn’t like that there. It was known for our oil, gold and diamonds. Venezuela also has the most Miss Universe winners. So we were known for having beautiful things and beautiful people. So when I talk to people that have moved here from back home I talk to them and I challenge them to do their best. I remind them that when we move to other countries it to better ourselves, not to be the same type of people that we would have been if we had stayed in Venezuela.

There is so much opportunity here. And I think that’s what makes America so beautiful. Even though there’s racism and a lot of people that hate, you have opportunities. If you put that noise aside you have a chance to be great. I guess you have that chance in any country but especially here. If you study and work hard there’s no reason that you cannot get what you want in life.

 

Ricardo Navas

Higher Calling

Family Man + Venezuelan + Latino

Entrepreneur + Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Fighter

Photographer

instagram: @navasphotos

website: navasphotos.com

“Arte Suave”

Smooth Art