Thoughts on Cancer and Magic Johnson

September 24, 2014
Topics: Riley Kid Story, Cancer (oncology)

Former NBA player and HIV/AIDS activist, Magic Johnson
Former NBA player and HIV/AIDS activist, Magic Johnson

I’m not a Magic Johnson fan, but that doesn’t really matter. I am, however, a huge fan of biographies. I love to learn about people’s stories. So when a documentary about Magic Johnson was on our television one evening this summer, I curled up in my chair with my popcorn and watched.

Something Johnson said near the end of the show struck me.

The basketball legend was sharing about his journey with HIV. He was diagnosed at a time when many thought it would be a swift death sentence for both his basketball career and his very life. They were wrong. Johnson has lived with HIV for 23 years, and, due to some medical breakthroughs and treatments, he continues to lead a fairly normal life.

Johnson has been the face of HIV for a quarter of a century but he said that’s been both good and bad.

The good has been the level of awareness and education that many have received due to such a public figure being diagnosed.

The bad is that he’s alive and well.

The bad may seem good, and it most definitely is, but he was saying that in the fight to raise awareness and fund for HIV and AIDS, many look to him and think, “He’s fine! He’s healthy! He’s had HIV forever and still looks good. What’s the big deal?”

It’s a double-edged sword.

I can relate. Our son, Karson, was diagnosed with leukemia when he was just 2 years old.

It was a possible death sentence for him. We didn’t know how his little body would respond to the treatment or if the cancer would take his life. However, we are SO thankful that Karson is not only alive, he’s healthy and thriving. He’s now almost 10 years old and it has been more than four years since he completed his rigorous chemotherapy. The dark valley of that time is behind us.

If you look at Karson you’d never know he’d once been a bald, puffy, weak and very sick little toddler. You’d never know he went through years of chemotherapy, 22 spinal taps, two bone marrow biopsies, three years of steroids, and more blood transfusions and hospital stays than we can count. Instead, you see a tall and smiling 4th grader who pitched on his Little League team and just broke his arm being “all boy” while doing a cannonball off a swing in our backyard.

And when you see him as a leukemia survivor you may begin to think, “He’s fine! He’s healthy! He went through leukemia but look at him now. What’s the big deal?”

But it is a big deal.

Karson is alive and healthy. Karson is a leukemia survivor. Not every story ends this way.

Not everyone is healthy like Magic Johnson and Karson Cabe years after being diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. We don’t know why we are so blessed to have this outcome when others deal with death and sorrow, but we are grateful beyond words.

And while on this mountaintop we don’t want to waste what we learned in the valley.

And that’s why we continue to share his story and many statistics and facts:

- Cancer is the #1 disease-related cause of death for children.

- Every day, 42 children are diagnosed with cancer.

- 12 percent of children diagnosed with cancer do not survive.

- Children’s cancer affects all ethnic, gender and socio-economic groups.

- The average age of children diagnosed is 6.

- More than 40,000 children undergo treatment for cancer each year.

- 60 percent of children who survive cancer suffer late-effects, such as infertility, heart failure and secondary cancers.

- There are approximately 375,000 adult survivors of children’s cancer in the United States.

I can’t speak for Magic Johnson, nor do I wish to, but I hope that his success story and Karson’s will inspire others to take action to help those who are sick with these awful diseases.

If nothing else, it sure makes for a great documentary.

Christy Cabe

Christy enjoys telling a good story in hopes that the reader will “walk away encouraged and inspired to grow in their love for God, and for others.” She has a degree in educational ministries from Huntington University, drinks coffee every morning, and lives in Fort Wayne with her husband, Kraig, and their three children. Christy recently published a memoir, “Brownie Crumbs and Other Life Morsels.”

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