The first time I heard Kirollos “Cookie” Gendi speak was at last year’s Relay for Life, but his story is one you have to hear more than once. A few days ago, I sat across from him, listening in amazement as he cheerfully related his life-threatening struggle with cancer.
“I personally believe that survivorship stories are the tales of epic battles that deserve to be shared and not hidden,” he said, brushing off my hesitancy when I requested that he talk about something I imagined might be too painful.
Cookie is your typical UC Davis student. A happy-go-lucky, charismatic guy, he is in his second year and is majoring in neurobiology, physiology and behavior. He has also been cancer free for 10 years now.
When he was nine years old he was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a cancer of the bone. It all started during a family trip to Toys-R-Us. Cookie fell and injured his right leg while horsing around with his brother. Although 9-year-olds are prone to getting bumps and bruises, this time it was different. The pain was so bad that Cookie was convinced he had “a hairline fracture” (kids, huh?). When his parents took him to the doctor, no breaks were found. However, the x-ray showed something else. While healthy bones show up white in x-rays, Cookie’s tibia showed up darker than his other bones. His doctor referred him to a specialist who immediately ordered a biopsy.
Cookie’s family traveled to Texas in order to benefit from a new needle-biopsy that would be relatively painless as opposed to the traditional biopsy. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t spare Cookie the pain he was soon to endure. The biopsy came back positive.
At this point in his story, Cookie lifted up his right pant leg, revealing a shiny scar no less than a foot long running from his ankle to his knee. This is the memento he has from his surgery when doctors cut out a large portion of his tibia and replaced it with that of a cadaver. He also had to endure multiple blood transfusions, undergo chemotherapy and drink nutrient-rich Ensure to help him stay healthy. The way he tells it, the Ensure was the worst part of the whole experience.
Cookie remained surprisingly optimistic throughout the entire process. When he lost his hair, it allowed to him to relate more to Michael Jordan, he said. When he missed most of the 4th grade, it just gave him more time to do the things he loved. When he had to stay overnight in hospitals, it was okay because his family was with him. Although he doesn’t say it, I have a sneaking suspicion that his positive attitude played a significant role in his recovery.
Cookie attributes his current health to the chemotherapy, the surgery and the support of family and friends. “Though I don’t have cancer anymore, my fight with cancer is nowhere near over,“ he explains. This is seen in Cookie’s dedication to educating others and his involvement in Relay for Life – a 24-hour event put on by the American Cancer Society to help raise money, awareness and support in the fight against cancer.
“Until this disease is a thing of the past, fighting back is a way of life,” and Relay for Life is one way to do that. Cookie would encourage everyone to participate in this fun, inspiring event. “As cheesy as it sounds,” he admits, “when you’re at Relay you know that everyone cares – everyone is family.”
Although we don’t all have stories like Cookie’s, cancer has touched most people’s lives in some way. Whether you know a survivor, lost a loved one or have simply heard of too many lives touched by this awful disease, I encourage you all to take a leaf out of Cookie’s book and fight back.
DANIELLE RAMIREZ thinks that everyone should be involved in the fight against cancer. E-mail her at email@example.com to find out more about Relay for Life and how you can help save lives.