Erica Ebner Reflects on a Life Surviving Challenges

Posted on June 27, 2011 by

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I was twelve when my doctor told me with wide, sad eyes that I had two months to live.

That was the day my life changed in a very drastic way.  I had headaches every day, my left hand stayed closed most of the time, my left leg was so weak that I couldn’t’t walk very well without stumbling, and I had such a bad left visual field that I was lucky I did not run into everything—it was a good day when I did not walk into another human being.  The doctor told me I had a very rare disease and there was nothing anyone could do for me.  She thought I was going to die.  She had me believing that I was going to die.

I was younger than anyone should have to be when he or she goes through something as serious as a cancerous brain tumor.  I also had to do it alone the first time.  I went through the chemotherapy alone in the hospital with nurses and doctors I barely knew.  I was scared, I was in pain, and I was alone.  The first few months it did not bother me that much, but, after a while, it grew very tiresome to have a stranger taking me down the hall to the movie room.  The hospital employees were all very nice and helpful, but it just was not the same as having a real family.

I had to go through a whole year of chemotherapy before the tumor started shrinking.  Then something began happening to me.  I went to my last two rounds of chemo, and I wasn’t really alone anymore.  I had people from school, fellow congregants of the church I attended, and many others supporting me and helping me get through this disease of mine.  This was while I lived in North Carolina.

Two years later, I was living in Pennsylvania, and I was stricken down by the same terrible monster again.  The type of cancer I had was called Right-Thalamic-Anaplastic-Polynemic-Astrocytoma.  In other words, I had cancer on the right side of my brain.  If I would have had cancer in North Carolina again, then I would have definitely died.  Nobody was willing to operate on my head because of where the tumor was located; it was so close to the optical nerve that the doctors were afraid they would make me go blind if they worked on my brain.   

When I moved to Pennsylvania with my grandmother, I was diagnosed with the second round of cancer, Right-Thalamic-Anaplastic-Astrocytoma.  The way the doctors discovered it was by an MRI.  When my grandmother told me the doctors had called and said the tumor had grown, I laughed.  I laughed because I did not want to believe her; I laughed because I thought she was joking.  But when I saw her face, she had a look that told me my worst nightmare had returned.

I cried. It was only natural that I cried. Then she told me that the doctors might be able to fix it.  They had a doctor who was willing to operate.  

“I might not have to die,” I thought.

We made the journey to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and met with a surgeon named Doctor Phillip Storm.  I was very nervous that he might change his mind and say he was not willing to work on a tumor such as mine because the other doctors had said it might make me go blind if they took it out.  That made me nervous too.  As nervous as I was, I went through 14 ½ hours of surgery on my head, and I exited the operating room with an enormous headache.  Regardless, headache or not, I was out of the operating room with no bit of the tumor left inside my head.

This all happened over three years ago, and I took that chance, faced with the risk of blindness and death.  I took it because I knew it could save my life, and, even though I missed over half a year of school–even though I was afraid–I volunteered for the surgery.  I went through therapy, I had radiation and chemotherapy all over again, and I am still here today.

People call me a fighter; people call me a trooper.  It’s not me they need to look to for survival tips: It’s my grandmother.  She accompanied me to all of my radiation procedures; she went to all of my chemo treatments; she sat at my bedside for the month or so I was in the hospital recovering.  People look at me and say I’m a fighter, but the truth is I would never have made it if I would have been alone again.  If my grandmother would not have been with me, I would surely have died.  I may not ever be able to drive or play sports in gym class, but I am very lucky to be alive today and doing as well as I am.  The doctor gave me two months to live.  I’ve been living for over four years since she said that. I am still here, and I do not intend on letting any doctor tell me how long I have to live.

You see, cancer is a terrible thing.  But what made my first bout so challenging was that I did not have parents to help me through it.  My mother and father—if you can call them that –were into drugs and alcohol.  My mother liked to party more than she liked to keep her children fed, and my father liked to pass out in the backyard more than making sure we had decent clothes to wear.

 I was almost totally alone during my first battle with cancer–when I say “almost,” I mean I had my social worker and a few nice nurses to walk around with me, but that was all.  When you go through cancer, loneliness is not something to wish on anybody.  You are going to want someone from your family there, loving you and helping you out.  In my case, I had neither my mother nor my  father, and when I was going through my cancer that first time,  it really hurt me to see other kids with their families because  I thought no one in my family cared.

In my case, my parents are not fit to be called parents.  They are not the type of people who should have ever even had children.  If my father was any good, then he would have seen me falling, running into things, and losing coordination with my hand.

My parents are the reason my cancer became as bad as it did.  I lived with my father, who did not care where he was when he passed out in drunkenness.  In some circumstances, if you were in his path, he would fall right on top of you.  If he would have been any kind of real father, he would have seen my hand start closing up or that I was stumbling because of my weak left  leg.  He did nothing but yell and beat me when I did not get the dishes clean enough because of my bad left visual field and left hand.  He yelled and yelled even though it was not my fault.

Then one day, after he passed out in the front yard, a white car pulled into our driveway.  I was a little frightened.  That was the kind of car I saw when my little brother and I were taken away from our mother, who also does not deserve the title.  I did not want to be taken away from my father, at least not right then.  I may have been young and stupid, but everything that was happening in that house was what I was used to seeing.  My father had me thinking that this life was the way everybody lived.  I had no idea that it was wrong to be hit and yelled at every day.    All I knew was that, right then, I was content living in one place. Right then, I was content going to school every day and being the butt of my peers’ jokes.  Right then, I was content getting yelled at because I didn’t do the dishes correctly as long as it meant I had a home to which to return each day.  I was content because all of these things were all I ever knew.  I had no idea life could have been any better. 

The day I was taken away from my father was the day my life started to improve.

The next day I found myself in a house in which I had not fallen asleep night before.  I found myself waking up to a kind woman who was offering me food, and not just a sandwich or cereal.  I liked food, so I guessed this was a better place than the one in which I had woken up the day before.

For the next few years, I spent my life in the hands of strangers.  They were, for the most part, nice.  There were a few that were a real piece of work, but, for the most part, everything was okay.  After a couple of years, I moved to Pennsylvania to live with my Aunt Cissy and Uncle Mike.  I thought it would be a lot better than shifting among different foster parents, but it was almost worse.

At first it was okay, but, after a while, I really couldn’t stand being in the same room as my aunt.  She was just mean.  After almost a year and a half, my aunt gave up on my little brother and me.  She told us we were going to live in Blandon with our grandparents.  We were so happy.  We tried not to let her see it though because we didn’t want to hurt her feelings. 

The last day we spent at our aunt’s house was the last day of school for the year, and we were all packed and ready to go to our grandparents’ house to live.  Then I remembered that I forgot something.  I told my aunt that I forgot my Nintendo DS in the house.  That’s when she told me that she was going to keep both mine and my little brother’s DS games and the cartridges.  When I asked her why, she just replied, “I don’t think you were good enough to keep them.”

That was the end of her part in my story.  I knew she would not change her mind.  I did not really understand how someone could be so cruel, to take away something from children, especially knowing that the games were a Christmas present.  It did not seem right to me, but, being the child I was, I held my mouth shut. 

                The first day we arrived at our grandparents’ house, I knew things would be different.  I knew that this was going to be my last stop.  My Mom-Mom was the sweetest grandmother anyone could wish to have, and my Pop-Pop was very nice too.  They were my brother’s and my best hope for a family.  My Mom-Mom liked to take us everywhere with her, and my Pop-Pop enjoyed taking us to the park on some weekends, when he was not working hard.  Eric and I had struck gold getting to live with them.  I knew nothing would ever be able to hurt us again as long as we lived with our grandparents.  In the end, that was true.  Even when I was struck by cancer a second time.

Everywhere I have lived, sometimes with and sometimes without my little brother Eric, nowhere has been as good as with my Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop.  This is true for one sole reason:  They have given Eric and me our lives back.  No matter how rough it has been getting here, I’m glad I had the chance to live with my grandparents.  Not only did they save my life during my surgery, but they also gave me a better life to live with them.

Upon entering my grandmother’s house that day in June 2008, she told me it was my last stop, that I would never have to live anywhere else again.  I was almost afraid to believe her, but I did believe her because she also told me she would never lie to me.  I believed her even though trust was not my first impulse at the time.  She kept her promise.  I still live with her today, and I have no intension of leaving anytime soon. 

It was not until I came to live with my grandmother that I was able to attend the same school for a whole year.  With my mother’s reliance on drugs and my father’s habit for drugs, alcohol, and being kicked out of everywhere, I was lucky to have been going  to school at all during the first half of my life.  I have been to almost 20 different elementary schools, 5 different middle schools, and this is my first high school—Fleetwood Area High School.  

It will also be the last  high school I attend. 

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