My name is Nicolas Hambalek and I am 14 years old. Before my diagnosis I was a completely healthy child, in fact I was rarely ever sick. I played baseball, had straight A’s, and recently had recently got a new puppy. This sense of normalcy came to a screeching halt on January 13, 2018. That’s the day I was admitted into the pediatric ICU and the day I first heard the words, “you have cancer.” My family and I were devastated.
That day and the following weeks were excruciating. The doctors could clearly see a large mass on a chest x-ray and CT scan. During my initial stay in the ICU, there were more scans, blood tests, and biopsies. Little did I know that was just the beginning. I was very sad but tried to remain optimistic. The mass in my chest and neck were so large my trachea was compressed, and I was getting sicker and sicker. The immediate treatment was medical steroids in hopes that the mass would begin to shrink. It worked, and after two weeks in ICU, the mass decreased enough so that I could go home for a few days before surgery to insert my port, and before we embarked down, the long road of chemo.
My extended family, family friends, and others in our community rallied together in support of me and my parents during that rough time. I know my family continued to be devastated, but they always met me with patience and optimism, plus we were informed of very good odds of survival, and I was blessed with high-quality care. After 6 long months of chemotherapy and radiation, I heard the words, “You’re in complete remission.” We were all relieved and excited to return to life.
It’s been almost four years since my diagnosis; I still have some lung conditions from the chemo and some damage to my diaphragm and my spine after the radiation, but I feel healthy again and you can’t tell the difference between me and someone who never faced this disease. The experience taught me that you are not entitled to your life, and sometimes the best people leave this world early. I’ve also learned that life is a gift and it’s important to make the most of every day. Having and surviving cancer is certainly defining circumstances in my life, but cancer does not define me.
LLS has helped me and countless other families by funding new drugs to treat both leukemia and lymphoma. Locally, LLS also helps families directly when their insurance is lacking or by making connections with particular services. I have truly grown as an individual because LLS has provided me the experience of reflecting on and telling my story and sharing it with you. Also, I’m forever grateful for all LLS has done to help me and for the countless ways they are providing a better future for cancer patients and survivors around the country.