Friday, March 27, 2015

Hodgkin's Lymphoma Survivor on AMERICAN NINJA WARRIOR

Craig Cornish, an 8-year blood cancer survivor and longtime North Texas Team In Training (TNT) participant and honored hero, is tackling a new challenge: AMERICAN NINJA WARRIOR.  Craig has been selected to participate in the TNT  show's 7th season.  Below he shares his personal battle with blood cancer as he prepares to film on March 27th and 28th in Houston, TX.  Craig says he is dedicating his run to all patients and survivors.  Good luck, Craig! 

"In 2003, I was 14 years old and a high school freshman.  I had been experiencing random fevers for about a year and had no explanation of what was going on other than 'maybe it was just allergies.' After one particular episode, my family went back to the doctor to see if something could be explained. While listening to my breathing, the doctor noticed I had constricted breathing like something was blocking it. He ordered to have a CT scan, thinking I might have pneumonia. After the scan was over, a new doctor that I had never seen before came in and told me that what I had was far worse than pneumonia.  At this point it was too early to tell what it was, so I had test after test and biopsy after biopsy trying to discover what this foreign thing was in my body. Finally the diagnosis came through, I had Stage IV Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

Now at 14 years old and having cancer, of course the first reaction that came to my mind was, 'why?' Utter confusion swept my family and I. All we could do now was proceed with treatments. Throughout my entire battle with cancer, I experienced 14 different types of chemo, three months of radiation, and two bone marrow transplants. The cancer started off as a tumor the size of a softball in the middle of my chest. Eventually it went away but then it came back inside my lungs. At this point we decided to do a stem cell transplant, meaning reinsert my own bone marrow after hitting me with a huge dose of chemo to kill off everything inside of me. It worked, but only for a short year. Later that year I was experiencing an agonizing pain inside my hips and the cancer had come back, inside my bone marrow this time.

At this point in my cancer journey, there were not any more treatments I could go through. I had been through every type of drug there was for my cancer and it was still coming back. As a last resort, we needed a donor bone marrow transplant and a new drug.During my battle there was a very strong chemo drug they had used called VP-16 that created an allergic reaction that almost killed me twice.  It was then that a miracle occurred, through all the research The Leukemia Lymphoma Society funds to find new drugs and treatments, a brand new chemo was developed and it was for my type of cancer. We did a trial run through to test to see how effective it would be, and it reduced the cancer enough that the doctor decided to just hit me with the full blast of it and go with the transplant.

While this is without a doubt the true test of endurance in my life, it was only the beginning for me. I have always been an active person and now after all this,  I was not about to give up on being active and exercising. After the transplant, they told me I would be in the hospital for at least 3 months, and if I was doing well and beginning to eat, I could leave to stay in the Ronald McDonald house down the street since my home was too far. They said I would probably be at the Ronald McDonald house for at least another 3 months recovering and that maybe I would be able to go home after that. Well I proved everyone wrong and defied the odds. I was in the hospital 1 month, and the McDonald house for 1 month and then I was back at home. All because I had the drive that I did not want to be contained in that prison. I hated the fact that I was now limited in what I could do and it just pushed me to try that much harder. 

After finally making it home, I was still home bound trying to let my immune system recover by not exposing myself to too many things that would get myself sick. Finally though I was cleared to go back into school and finish my 5th year of high school, as the very 1st year I made it through an entire year of high school without having to leave from getting sick again. Four years of treatments and now my life was ready to begin. I now started to try and get my endurance and athletic ability back, and man was I behind. I was on the soccer team and thankfully the coaches knew exactly who I was and what I had been through, so they let me push myself, and do what I could just to get stronger. Imagine though that you have to watch everyone on the soccer team busting their butts running miles and laps around the field, and I can’t even make it around the soccer field once without wanting to fall over and pass out. I hated that. I hated that everything I was doing seemed so insignificant to everyone because some people had no idea what I been through, and now could see that I looked just as healthy as everyone else, but was far from it. Some people would even see the coaches let me have breaks when no one else could and I just hated the fact that I needed the break. In my mind everyone sees you as slacking off and not giving everything you’ve got. So many times I wished I could just magically get better, but I knew it wouldn’t happen. I also knew this was the rest of my life. I would never be at the same caliber everyone else was, but I didn’t care. As long as I tried, I now had a new mission in life: to push the survivors limits.

So I fight every day to make myself better, and better someone else’s life. I run half marathons, triathlons, and 12 mile obstacle course races all in the name of survivors. I speak at mission moments for fundraising groups, sharing my story, and then going out there and training with them to run half marathons. To this day, I only have 72-74% lung capacity. During my treatment days it was down in the 60s because of the cancer and scar tissue. All the exercise I have done has led some tissue to regenerate, but I will never be at full capacity like someone else. Along with that, my heart has had so much pass through it as well, along with every other organ in my body. I have to be checked the rest of my life to make sure something new doesn’t grow, but also be aware of the toll exercise now has on my body. This is why fatigue sets in really easily on me. So I fight to keep myself in great shape as I possibly can for those survivors out there who may not be as fortunate as I have been. Maybe they just need the proper motivation, and I would be happy to be that motivation. At the trainings and mission moments I've been to, people don’t call me a cancer survivor. They call me a cancer warrior and I am happy and honored to live up to that name and continue the fight. Now I am going to represent all other cancer survivors and warriors at American Ninja Warrior and show the world exactly what survivors can do. My life wasn’t over when I was diagnosed, my life had only just begun!"

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