My name is Thomas Aaron James, but everybody just calls me Thomas! I was
ten years old on September 2, 2004, but the picture you're looking at was
my birthday when I was just three! I was just a little guy when I got leukemia.
Of course, almost six years has gone by, and even my sister thinks I'm
much more grown up now. I think I look at least a little more mature in this 4-year-old picture,
don't you? Can you see my sister Hayley climbing up the fence? And just
IMAGINE how big I am now!
Right before I was two years old, my legs hurt, A LOT, and I started to limp! Then all of a sudden bruises were appearing all over my body. My mom and dad and I were worried, but we got even more worried when I got a bloody nose for no reason at all, at least no reason that we could figure out. That's why I went to my pediatrician, and that's why I had a lot of blood tests. Pretty soon we all had the answer, a type of cancer called leukemia.
I didn't know what leukemia was--I was still really little. Now I do, though, and I know that with the type that I had, my bone marrow kept making a tricky kind of white blood cell that didn't do what white blood cells are supposed to do. Instead, this new leukemia type was really pushy and it didn't leave room for red blood cells, platelets, and the kind of white cells that I WANT to have. Did you know that your red looking blood had all those different cells in it? I sure didn't, but you're probably older than I am!
Here's what I learned about blood.
The red blood cells are supposed to carry oxygen around. We need oxygen to live. Try this experiment. Hold your breath until you just can't any longer. See? All the cells of your body screamed, "breathe, breathe...we need more oxygen!" when you finally breathed some in through the air, your blood probably said,"whew", picked it up from your lungs, and carried it all around your body to make every single cell happy.
Blood also contains some cells called platelets. They probably look like little plates, and when a bunch of them hold hands, well then they can make a clot. Platelets are a type of blood cell that help "clot" our blood. That means that when we cut ourselves, and blood starts to comes out, pretty soon the platelets say "stop" and presto, we have a scab. That's what platelets are good for. My mom says not to pick scabs because they're busy healing everything all up!
Now here's the confusing part, white blood cells. White blood cells help fight germs so we don't get infections. Have you ever had an infection? Well, if you have, then you probably know that our bodies make A LOT of these cells when we get sick. I think that they must be like little Pacmen that gobble up all the bad guys. Because I had leukemia, I sure had a lot of these cells (they call them WBC), BUT they were acting crazy, and they were definitely NOT helping me. The problem white blood cells were imposters, just pretending to be helpful. They were called "blasts".
So, when I was limping and my legs hurt a lot, it was because of all the fighting and squeezing going on in my bone marrow--the part of my bones that knows how to make blood. All these blasts were "crowding" out my "good" white cells, my red blood cells and my platelets, and they were hurting my bones. That's why I had bruises and a bloody nose, too. I didn't have enough platelets in my blood anymore to stop bleeding, so even a little bang on my arm made a big bruise! My platelets were being stomped on by those "pushy" white blood cell "blasts".
I learned about the leukemia on July 6, 1996. The doctors started this real strong medicine called chemotherapy two days later, and guess what! When they checked my bone marrow in a month, all the "blasts" were gone, and only normal white blood cells showed up! The doctors told us that I was in remission! That means that the chemotherapy, and all of the love I have around me, got the blast cells to scram. Because we definitely do not want them to come back, I have to take medicine for a couple more years. Chemotherapy medicine that is like a giant NO TRESPASSING sign on my body.
I feel really good today, even though the chemotherapy sometimes makes me sick. I figure that it's doing it's job, and if it makes me sick, just imagine what it's doing to any leftover little blasts!
what...I got the most wonderful wish granted by the Children's Wish Foundation
of Canada. It's a play system called the Huckleberry Hideout, and it's
set it up in my back yard! Want to come and play?
Thanks for coming to visit me!
the moon on its chin, and you'll be whisked back to the experts! If you
go back to the top of the page and tap ME on my shoulder, you can send
me a note!
Fleitas, Ed.D., R.N.
Associate Professor of Nursing, Lehman College, CUNY
Bronx, New York 10468
Last updated: November 14, 2004