The Marcus Josey Family
My name is Marcus Josey I am a 21 year old from York PA, and I am survivor from childhood cancer. On April 10th , 2015 my life was changed forever, when I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. That morning started out like any other day. I drove my little sister Alana to school, but on that particular day, I woke up 15 minutes late and was worried we were going to be late. We made it to school on time anyhow, but she was overreacting.
I got to school that day and 15 minutes into my first class the phone rang, and the guidance counselor requested to see me. Typically, if the guidance counselor wants to see you, you are in trouble. So the whole time walking down there I was thinking of all the things I could have possibly done to be in trouble. When I got there, my counselor said, “don’t worry, you’re not in trouble” I was like, “wooo thank God”. My guidance counselor then said that she had a letter for me. I said, “A letter?” She handed me the letter and I opened it. I started reading it and saw it was from the head football coach at Harvard University and it stated that I was one of the top athletic recruits. Harvard’s football coach was requesting my SAT and ACT scores, transcripts, GPA, and class rank. I realized I was in some of the final stages of recruiting. To me, this was an extremely big deal because really, I had worked my whole life to get to this point. My mom and dad are both teachers and they always pushed me really hard in school. My dad was a football coach and we spent countless hours working out and practicing for me to become a better football player. So, receiving this letter made me feel as if I finally made it. I took out my phone, took a picture of the letter, and sent it to my mom and dad and said, “Look guys I finally made it”. But like I said, they are both teachers and they couldn’t check their phones so they didn’t see the message right away.
I went back to English and found out that we had an assembly the next period. The assembly was for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I wasn’t too worried about the assembly at first, was just happy because we had an hour out of school. As the assembly we on I started to pay more and more attention, because they started to talk about the symptoms of leukemia. I became more and more interested by the presentation as it continued on because for about 4 weeks prior to this day, I had been experiencing strange symptoms myself.
Within those four weeks, I went to the doctors six times trying to get answers for the excruciating back pain, jaw pain, night sweats, and nose bleeds that would last for hours but the doctors kept just explaining them away. I realized the pain and issues I had been experiencing for four weeks were all the same symptoms the Leukemia and Lymphoma were describing on that stage. Once I started to see the correlation between the symptoms, I took out my phone and did a google search. On the google page that came up there was a list of 10 symptoms of Leukemia; I had 8 of 10 symptoms on the page. I told the person sitting beside me, and I was like I think I have leukemia.
No one believed me. The next thing I did was screen shot the google page. I sent a message to my mom and dad that said the following: “I think I have leukemia, I need blood work today.” I then sent the screenshot of the symptoms saying I had 8 of 10 symptoms. Like I said earlier, they are both teachers and they didn’t see the first message about the Harvard letter, so they were in for a rude awaking when they were going to read the message that I thought I had leukemia.
After that I went to gym class and got a nosebleed. This was my third nosebleed of the week. The nurses’ office said my mom needed to pick me up. I went to York Hospital and when I walked in, I told them I thought I had Leukemia and I needed blood work. The doctors had a puzzled look. I told them my symptoms, and I was taken to get blood work. I then waited four hours, all the while my nose was still bleeding.
When the doctor finally came back with the blood work results he said, “you were right, we believe you have leukemia and your white blood cells are very high.” He told us we were being rushed to Hershey right away. As soon as we got there, things started happening very quickly. Within 24 hours, I had chemotherapy started, blood tests, bone marrow biopsies and a spinal tap. This is where I began my multiple years long of treatment for Leukemia. I have gone through the years of treatment I went through many ups and downs. Some of the downs included; developing blood clots in my throwing arm, mouth sores that caused me to be hospitalized and lose my ability to eat, having neuropathy (which caused me not to walk for a short amount of time), being hyperglycemic from chemo, many bouts of serious Pneumonia and RSV.
Despite the downs throughout my treatment, there were also many ups! I mentored Elliot Ross another ALL patient who at the time was 9. We were featured within the Eagles Road to Victory documentary. Also, I got to take Miss New Jersey to homecoming (thank you cancer). But the most important experience through this journey, has been all of the amazing people that I have been able to meet. One of those people that I got to meet was Hope Westrick. She was just one of the strongest and nicest people I ever met. A couple days after I was diagnosed Hope walked into my room. She was connected to a bunch of lines from her IV pole, and you could tell she was very weak, but she walked into my room and had a paper in my room. On that paper was a paw print. The paper said my name and Bobcat Pride because me and Hope were from the same school district. That is just an example of how nice she was, even though at the time she was suffering a lot more than I was she made this drawing to boost my spirit.
Unfortunately, on December 26th, 2016, Hope passed away and at the time I was also in the hospital very sick so I wasn’t allowed to say goodbye to her. Her mom came into my room with a bag and said Hope wanted you to have these and she gave me my Christmas gifts that Hope picked out for me. Another example of how nice she was.
I have also been inspired by my doctors. Before I was diagnosed, I wanted to be a neurologist or a neurosurgeon. Shortly afterwards, I wanted to be an oncologist. A big part of this is because of the hard work and commitment my doctors, including Dr. Camito, Dr. Kapatia, put into saving my life and all of their patients. It has inspired me tremendously. At that time, it made me want to be a pediatric oncologist and save other kids lives in the future. From there on out I made it my goal to become an oncologist, and specifically, like Dr. Maleeka Capatia. Before going into all this, I thought that being a great doctor was just about knowing everything medically. But I realize there is so much more to dealing with pediatric cancer patients because of the way she interacted with me. I had hoped to be a good doctor like her one day.
I have completed three years of college as a biology major at Gettysburg. I am not going to lie that none of it has been easy. Dr Camito told us at the beginning to expect to get C’s while in treatment if I chose to go to a college as hard as Gettysburg, and we didn’t realize how accurate that might be. I faced the first two full years of my college experience while I still faced many obstacles, many illnesses and even hospitalizations. I suffered from major chemo brain, which didn’t allow my memory to work at the capacity that it did previous to diagnosis and treatment.
In addition, I was diagnosed with avascular Necrosis AVN, which basically means that my bones are dying from the lack of blood supply and lack of oxygen. I found this out due to the intense pain that I suffered daily (sometimes majorly affecting my normal quality of life, including even being able to walk to the cafeteria). Due to the AVN, I had to have extra appointments, on top of the monthly chemo appointments for MRI, ortho appointments, etc. I found it difficult so many times to handle the drive to Hershey from Gettysburg, time for the appointments, while trying to manage very difficult science courses such as chemistry 2, cellular biology, and genetics along with 4 hour labs for these courses.
I now very much realized why my doctors told me to expect that I may be getting C’s and that would be “okay” even though I wasn’t used to it. Dr Camito used to say to me that my life experiences would outweigh my C’s at some point. For the first time ever, I had to withdraw from college to start surgeries on my legs. The surgeries started with my left ankle, which was causing the worst pain, even though my right ankle is structurally worse. My doctor who is a Hershey orthopedic named Dr. Anaynardi, gave me hope that by drilling out all dead bone and marrow, that new bone will grow in and I will have a chance of a good quality of life in the future. He is amazing.
So far, my recovery from the first surgery is going very well. My pain isn’t nearly as bad as either the doctor or we expected because I was living in such excruciating pain daily. My goal is to get the other ankle done as soon as possible.
I was told that I was chosen to be featured for the honesty diamond because I have shared openly about my cancer journey. I believe that by sharing and being the voice for those who don’t have the confidence nor the ability to speak their truth or share their story, that I will draw awareness to childhood cancer. I won’t pretend that this is the best thing that ever happened to me. It isn’t. It isn’t the worst either. The worst thing it took from me is the ability to run and play sports. The best thing cancer did for me is that it changed my perspective on life. It taught me not to complain about the little things in life.
I would like to thank the THON community and Four Diamonds for all and everything you have done for me and my family. Thank you for not forgetting about me. Thank you for allowing me to share my story. Thank you to Greg Baiocchi for being a great social worker to me through the many years I needed you and helping my mom and dad to navigate this difficult journey for me. Thank you to the nurses who became family and the doctors who saved my life. Thank you to Dr Blackall, one of the very best psychologist anyone could ask for.