In May of 2021, when I was 30, my wife, two young children and I flew from Chicago on a trip to visit my wife’s cousins and my brother and his family in California. We were going to announce my wife’s pregnancy at a family gathering. We also went to a zoo out in the desert, and I went to a Los Angeles Angels game with my brother. While it was a fun trip, I felt lousy the whole time.
By June, I was throwing up a couple of times a week, and at my daughter’s second birthday party, I could barely eat a bite of my favorite pizza. Something was very wrong with me.
On the 4th of July, a Sunday, I was trying to get ready to go to church and could hardly move without having to run to the bathroom to throw up. My wife finally told me to go to the hospital, so we called my parents over to watch the kids while we got checked in to the local E.R. After a couple hours of being scanned, poked and peeing into cups, I was told I was going to take an ambulance ride to Chicago. The doctor’s demeanor changed completely from nonchalant to deadly serious. He quietly told me that it’s possible I have leukemia. I didn’t take him seriously.
Once I arrived at the hospital in Chicago, I was given a room immediately. My dad drove the 45 minutes to be in the room with me when I was told that I did indeed have leukemia. My dad began to cry and pray while I stared at the wall in disbelief. I watched the 4th of July fireworks exploding all across the city right outside my window all night long. I was diagnosed with B-Cell Ph+ Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, which I was told had a decent prognosis. A lot of research and trials were available to me, and we got started right away.
Within an hour of being diagnosed, my wife set up a CaringBridge page for me and the texts and calls started flooding in. I couldn’t even look at my phone, I was so angry. I wanted to go home to my kids, but I had to stay in the hospital for over two weeks.
Just before my 31st birthday, I was declared “in remission,” but the battle was far from over. I had to undergo lumbar punctures and IV infusions a couple of times a week for maintenance. I can’t tell you how many times I threw up!
I had a lot to look forward to: my birthday in August, our baby boy due in mid-November, and my PICC line being removed from my arm. I had a couple hospital stays for a few days at a time for various illnesses, but in early November, things took a turn for the worse.
I ended up back in the local E.R. very dizzy and nauseous. My dad and my brother-in-law met me at the hospital, as my wife was sick with rotavirus. Turns out my treatments were killing my liver and I had to be rushed to Chicago in an ambulance once again.
When your liver is dying, your cognizance is affected, so I have very few recollections from that time. I don’t remember visits from my family, and the first thing I remember is my sister (a nurse) getting me up out of my hospital bed and telling me to put on deodorant, shave my face and shampoo my hair. I was told I was very close to dying, and the whole family has been praying day and night that I live.
My wife was the one updating the CaringBridge page every day to update our family and friends. She knows more about my cancer than I do, so I would check it every day to see how I was doing 😉.
I was days away from my wife’s due date and I was going to miss the delivery. I facetimed with my sister-in-law, who was in the delivery room, and I got to not only see, but name my baby boy. Ryan Michael was born a little early, and he spent a few nights in the NICU, but he and my wife were healthy and doing well. I’m still mad I wasn’t there for that.
I was put on a different chemo medication and I slowly improved. I was released from the hospital 2 days later and got to meet my new baby the next day.
It’s been over two years since I was diagnosed with leukemia, my treatments at 3-month intervals up until my last one in August of 2023. On that day, I get to bring my family along as I ring the bell and leave the hospital for the last time.
I’m certain that God preserved me so I can live a life of thankfulness to him. He spared my life so I could meet my third child and help raise him with my amazing wife. Without God, my wife, my kids, my church, and my friends, I wouldn’t be here today. I look forward to celebrating the 4th of July, cancer-free with those I love. God’s been too good to me for me to complain about what’s happened. I know that this happened for a reason, and whatever reason that is, I know that my life is in His hands.
By: Michael Terpstra