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The Friend That Changed My Life

by Steven GiallourakisSurvivor, Osteosarcoma, AML, Pleomorphic Sarcoma Sarcoma, Renal Cell CarcinomaMay 17, 2021View more posts from Steven Giallourakis

When I was first diagnosed, I never wanted to leave my room. It wasn’t because I didn’t necessarily feel good. It was because I didn’t want to meet people. At 15, I understood that not all the children on my floor were going to survive. Of course, like all my others plans, life had a different plan. A few months after being diagnosed I was introduced to young girl. She was in my cousin’s elementary school class. Her name was Emily. Emily was about nine or 10 years old when we met. Even though there was an age difference between us, we became friends. She was always so happy and effervescent.

Emily’s parents were told that their daughter had a cancer that was 95% treatable. I was told with my cancer I had a 15% chance of survival.

For the next three years we would both have our ups and downs. Like many of you in the cancer community, we both feared those dreaded scans. The fear of relapse ever present. However, where I would relapse just once, she continued to relapse. In November of 2018 I was diagnosed with my second cancer, Secondary Acute Myelogenous Leukemia or AML. This required me to have more chemo and a subsequent bone marrow transplant. This was in the spring of 2019 and everything seemed to be looking up.

Then came June of that year. I got the news that Emily and her family had been told that there was nothing more they could do. The first time I went to see her since the news I was blown away. Here was a 13-year-old girl who was told she will die and yet she was still as effervescent as always. In August of 2019, Emily passed away.

There is not a day that goes by where I do not wish I were braver for her. I could have spent more time with her and maybe helped comfort her. In the end, my guilt over being in remission won out and I did not visit as much as I should have.

The summer that Emily passed away we had our city’s Relay for Life. It was a sunny day, dotted with big puffy storm clouds. At one point a huge set of dark clouds, as dark as cinders, appeared. Everyone was told to go into the school because lightning had been seen. Our group decided to just wait it out in our large tent. Emily stayed with us in our tent. It is one of my favorite moments of my life. All of the adults were having a good time talking and having some drinks and here was little Emily just walking around having a blast. Her smile never left her face the whole time.

Emily would have been 25 years old this year. I tried not to think in terms of ‘what if’ anymore. That kind of thought process takes you down a dangerous road. However, I do wonder the life she would have led. So much so that is the driving force behind my life. My guilt is that I never did enough for Emily.

I never wanted to be a part of this community. I don’t mean the cancer community, none of us have that choice. I mean the community of cancer advocacy. Since Emily has passed I have lost over 20 friends to this disease. Friends who will never be able to speak for themselves. Friends who will never get to live life. All the while I have had a chance to live one hell of a life. Yes, I have suffered myself during that time but I am still here.

We can’t expect this world to change if we are unwilling to stand up and change it ourselves.

Emily taught me so much. Above all else it was that no matter how bad life gets, love and kindness will always prevail. I love you Emily and I wish you were still here with us.

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