I am a long-term survivor of childhood acute lymphoblastic
leukemia (ALL). I like to think there was no turning back
when I was declared cancer-free at age 11, but that’s not
really true—my experience made me the person that I am
today. I learned not to sweat the small stuff, and striking a
balance in life is really important to me. My number-one
priority is to be a good father for my children, but I’m also
very driven professionally and I love to play, travel, and go
I was 5 years old, living a normal childhood, having lots
of fun, when I was diagnosed with ALL. I don’t remember
much about my diagnosis because I was so young, but I
do recall my parents taking me to the doctor after I had an
accident, just your typical childhood fall in which I hurt
my leg, and my parents telling the doctor I also didn’t seem
to possess the same amount of energy that I had had in the
past. They ran some tests and ultimately I was diagnosed
I really didn’t understand what was happening to me,
but I did know that it was a serious situation because
of the ways my parents were reacting. It was doom and
gloom—at that time, in the mid-1970s, survival rates for
childhood ALL were much lower than they are today. I
also remember my parents telling me that if they could
trade places with me they would, in a heartbeat. I never
doubted that commitment. So, even though my cancer
diagnosis was an unfortunate thing, it made our already
close family even closer.
At the time, we lived in Wichita, Kansas, but I was referred
to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
in Houston, and so my parents decided to relocate the
family to Houston on a permanent basis. From the
ages of 5 to 8, I had lots of chemotherapy and radiation
treatments. Initially I was treated in the hospital. Then,
after about a month, I was treated as an outpatient. At first
I was going in a couple times a week, and then it became
once a week, and then there was more and more time in
between sessions. I remember dreading the appointments,
but we would celebrate afterward.
After my treatment ended, at age 8, a bone marrow biopsy
showed no cancer, but it wasn’t until I was 11 that I was
officially declared cancer free. At that point, I made up for
time I’d lost to my treatments. I recall playing tag, baseball,
or basketball outside with my friends until it was too dark
to see, and even to this day, I feel that I’m a big kid who
loves to play as an adult.
I’ve had no long-term health consequences as a result of
my journey with cancer, but my experience really made
me appreciate life. It’s so easy to get caught up with life’s
frustrations and daily responsibilities, but I try to take
the time to stop and smell the roses. My experience also
made me want to give back, and I feel an important
responsibility as a survivor is being there for others facing
their own battle.
It is so challenging to watch someone you love go
through a journey with cancer. Sometimes you don’t
feel there is anything you can do to make a difference,
but there always is. Sometimes it’s as simple as holding
their hand as you sit in silence, just being there for them.
But as a caregiver, it’s important to take care of yourself.
It might sound selfish, but taking care of yourself will
enable you to be a better person and, in turn, be there
for your loved one.
I say this not as a cancer survivor, but as a husband of
a wife diagnosed with breast cancer at age 37. My wife
Monica’s journey was a difficult one for our whole family;
our kids were just 3 and 5 when she was diagnosed. I was
proud to be right there at her side throughout her journey.
We never gave up hope, but as her time was approaching,
it was very difficult. I had to tell our kids that today was
the day they were going to lose their mom. It had a huge
impact on my life, but I’m thankful for everything, for
every moment, that we had.
I am also extremely thankful for all the clinical trials that
were available to Monica during her journey; without
them I feel cancer would have taken her much sooner.
That’s why funding cancer research and clinical trials is
so important. I don’t want anyone else’s children to have
to grow up without a mom or a dad and other adults to
have to face the rest of their life without their soul mate
at their side.
Ja Y s Teiner // age 45 // for T coLLins, coLorado
CAnCeR suRvivoR AnD PAst
CARegiveR foR his soul mAte