Wednesday, 13 August 2014 18:01

Autobiography of Mike Anderson

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In addition to playing football at Maryland, averaged 12 minutes per game as a backup PG on the Basketball Team in 1989 In addition to playing football at Maryland, averaged 12 minutes per game as a backup PG on the Basketball Team in 1989

Introduction

The Golden Child

Life can be so unpredictable.  One day I was living my lifelong dream.  The next day I woke up in middle of my worst nightmare.  I could never have imagined my life taking that turn.  I had seen my share of disappointment, but for the most part my life had been like a dream come true.  That is, before the ritual began.  What I am about to tell you is not for the purpose bragging or boasting about my accomplishments.  I am much too humble to do such a thing.  However, in order for you to gain a true perspective of the level of grace that I fell from, you must be at least briefly familiar with my background. 

Before the ritual it seemed as though everything I touched to turned to gold.  To the outside world, I was like the golden child living a charmed and blessed life.  I had a childhood full of honor roll report cards and MVP trophies.  I was a good kid who had grown into a pretty fine young man by society’s standards.  I was well respected by my peers, as well as adults.  Little kids looked up to me as a role model, and I took that responsibility seriously.  I was considered BMOC (big man on campus) by most.  I was popular with the girls.  I never got into trouble.  I was a big time athlete playing college football on scholarship.  I was on my way to the pros.  At least it looked that way. 

Before the ritual I was the All-American kid, with an impeccable reputation.  I had two parents that loved me and more friends than I could count.  Before the ritual began I was well mannered and respectful.  My parents taught me that.  I was classy, intelligent, articulate and sophisticated.  I was a gentleman and a scholar.  My high priced private school education taught me that.  My life had prepared me for success before the ritual.  I appeared to have everything.  I was always a great athlete and since childhood, I had always been one of the best players on any team I played for.  I played sports year round.  Each football season ran right into basketball season, and then either baseball season or track season would be next.  There were no breaks.  Even in the summer time there were football camps, basketball camps, and preparation for the next season.  But I loved it though.  That is what I lived for as a kid.

Before the ritual I pretty much got all the toys that I ever asked for.  I was an only child and I did so well in school, in sports, and I was such a good kid that my parents rewarded me with all the material things that I dreamed about.  Some of my friends thought I was spoiled, but I never even got a C in any class until I got to college.  My parents felt as though I deserved the benefits because of my excellent grades and the fact that I was an obedient kid who did everything they asked and never got into trouble.  It didn’t hurt that I made them the proudest parents in the neighborhood.  They always taught me to excel at everything that I did.  They preached that if I did well in school, in sports, and treated people like I wanted to be treated, my future would be bright.  So, that is what I did.  I brought home nothing but A’s, B’s and Championships.  They brought me whatever I asked for.

Before the ritual, everything seemed to come so easily for me.  It didn’t matter whether it was playing dodge ball in elementary school, being referred to the Talented and Gifted Program (TAG) in Junior High School, or being selected to represent my school at Youth Leadership Conferences in High School.  I was blessed with brains and athletic ability.  Both my mom and my dad were former athletes.  Both of my parents were highly intelligent and became educators in the Prince George’s County Public School System.  My mom was a teacher and my father a guidance counselor.  They both earned master’s degrees and benefited tremendously from education. Their commitment to education prepared me to get off to a good start in school.

They sent me to one of the most prestigious High Schools in the country.  DeMatha Catholic High School had a reputation for being one of the top academic institutions and athletic powerhouses in the nation, and I excelled in the classroom, on the football field, on the basketball court, and on the track in my four years there.  I graduated with a 3.7 GPA.  I was an Academic All American.  I was V.P. of the National Honor Society and V.P. of the senior class, while earning the All Metropolitan Area Player of the Year Award in football as a junior.  On top of that, I was one of the cool kids.  I had the coolest clothes, the nicest car, and the prettiest girls.  Before the ritual, I had it all as a young man.  At every level of my life and at every age and grade level, I was always a winner.

Before the ritual began I had money, fame, respect, adoration, and opportunities.  Before the ritual, The Golden Child was shining brightly. My parents and my surroundings had prepared me very well for success in life.  What they could not prepare me for was the ritual that tarnished the glow, took away my shine, and changed my life forever.  Here is my story….

Chapter 1

The Nightly Ritual

It was the fall of 1987; September to be exact. I was 20 years old and had just begun my junior year of college.  I was in my dorm room, 3301 Garrett Hall on the campus of the University of Maryland.  It was a big, beautiful campus with over 30,000 undergraduates.  My dorm was different than the typical dormitory rooms that you see in movies.  It wasn’t like the usual high-rise building with long hallways lined with identical rooms and one large bathroom used by all of the residents who lived on that particular floor.  We had many of those on campus, but the athletes stayed on the South Hill, in apartment style buildings, with kitchens and fully furnished living rooms.  I was an athlete.  We stayed in 3 or 4 room suites with our own individual bathrooms.  We lived large on campus.  I had one of the best rooms of all the football players and I didn’t have a roommate. 

My room was on the top floor of a 3-story building and it was built into a slanted roof, which caused the walls to be angled, giving the room a much more cozy effect.  It felt almost like living in a spacious and luxurious attic.  My mom had bought me some navy blue curtains to make the windows stand out.  Because I didn’t have a roommate, I was able to push the two twin beds together, which actually formed a King Sized bed.  She also bought me a king sized mattress pad, king sized sheets, and a king sized comforter that matched the curtains.  The setup worked so well that when I slept on the bed I couldn’t even feel the split down the middle.  It was as if I really had a king sized bed in a college dorm room.  I had it pretty good.

The night started off pretty much like most of my nights since the first time I tried it.  For some reason, I had been keeping my room very dark lately and that night was no exception.  There were posters of me on the walls that I could barely see because of the darkness.  I would glance at those posters from time to time depending on my mood.  I hadn’t been looking at them much lately though.  What they represented seemed like such a long time ago.  There was a life size poster of Sade right above my bed that everyone always talked about.  I had some newspapers clippings that my mother had framed on the wall, as well. 

Everything in my room and on the walls was barely visible with such little light.  The TV was giving the room the only flickering light that it had.  I had the shades drawn tightly.  I had small towels under the curtains to try to keep the light from the lampposts outside from creeping in.  The sound from whatever TV show that was on was muffled in the background.  I really wasn’t paying any attention to it.  I had other things on my mind. 

My room was very messy.  That wasn’t how I normally kept my room and it was uncharacteristic of me to have it look so bad.  I always kept it immaculate before the ritual.  Back in the day, all of my shoes would have been in boxes and in order by style and color under the bed.  My clothes were always in their proper drawers.  Socks and underwear were neatly folded in the top drawer for easy access.  Pants and shirts were always hung up and the closet was organized by color and garment type. The floor was always vacuumed.  Never know when a lady might stop by for a visit.  The fellas might want to stop through and get beat down in some Sega Genesis, so I had to have the place looking good.  I always had a reputation to protect.  Not lately though. 

There were clothes all over the place and covering the chair that my guests would normally sit in.  There were a couple of empty pizza boxes on the floor at the foot of the bed.  I hadn’t been leaving the room much.  The trashcan was overflowing and trash was piling up in the corner.  I would get to it sooner or later.  The bed hadn’t been made up in days.  Why make the bed up when I was just going to be lying around in it most of the day anyway?  My sheets really did need changing, but who cared?  No girls would be coming over to see me anymore.  Not after this.  My mom would come by over the weekend and clean up for me.  She always did. 

Looking at the clothes on the floor and all the mess made me think about my mother for a minute.  She was so disappointed during that time because I wouldn’t just move back home so that she could be there to comfort me through my ordeal.  She worried every minute of everyday.  She was always trying to figure out what I was thinking and how I was feeling.  I just wasn’t ready to talk about it.  She was always asking, “How do you feel, baby?  Is there anything that I can do to make you feel better?”  She felt so helpless and I knew it.  I would always tell her, “I’m okay ma.”  But, I really wasn’t.  I didn’t want her to worry any more than she already was.  I knew that telling her how I really felt would have only made her feel worse.  I didn’t want to add to her pain.

She couldn’t understand why I would only let her come over on weekends, but she made the most out of those weekends.  She would clean my room, pick up my dirty laundry and place my clean folded clothes neatly in their drawers….and she would worry. Unfortunately, after 3 or 4 days the room would be a mess again, just like it was on this particular night.  She would prepare home cooked meals for me and bring them packed nicely into portions in Tupperware dishes.  That way all I had to do was heat them up in the microwave when I was ready to eat.  Since she brought enough food to last for the week, she would look so sad when she saw the empty pizza boxes on the floor.  “Why didn’t you eat momma’s food baby?” She would ask.  “I cooked it just like you always liked it.”  She loved it when I ate her food.  “I’ll eat it this week ma, I promise.”  I had been telling her that for the last couple of weeks.

After thinking about mom for a minute a sobering reality came to the forefront of my mind.  I hadn’t had many visitors recently.  I didn’t want any company.  People would call, but I would let the answering machine pick up and listen to the message.  I rarely answered though.  I would pick up when my parents, my girl, or my best friend called, but not for others.  I appreciated the concern, but I really didn’t want to talk to anyone.  Not with what was happening to me at that point.

After I finished feeling sorry for myself I cleared my mind and began to focus on my ritual again.  I sat on the side of the bed just staring at it. I got chills up my spine as the fear began to creep in.  I couldn’t believe I was about to do it again.  “Not another night of this,” I said to myself.  “I just can’t keep on doing this.”  As much as I didn’t want to do it, I felt like I had no choice.  Ever since the very first time I began to use it, I knew that I had to have it.  My body needed it.  I needed it to get through that tough period of my life.  I never dreamed that this would become a nightly ritual, but it did.

The syringe was sitting on my nightstand calling me again.  It was time. It seemed as if it was staring back at me saying, “come on Mike, you know you need me.  Stop wasting time.”  Man, that needle looked sharp.  Even in the dark room, it seemed to be shining. The needle was scary, as usual.  I couldn’t help but wonder how in the world I ended up in that place.  As a kid I was only afraid of three things: snakes, alligators, and needles.  There weren’t many alligators and snakes in Capitol Heights, Md., so I didn’t have to deal with them on a regular basis.  However, being a kid who made regular visits to the doctor for checkups, needles were a regular part of life for me, as it was for most kids.

They were a part of life that I always dreaded.  I could remember sitting in the doctor’s office as a kid being terrified of that needle like it was yesterday.  The doctor’s office was always so cold and sterile.  The needles were so long and sharp, just like the one that was staring at me on my nightstand.  Dr. McGuire always said that the sharper the needle, the less painful it would be, but it never felt that way to me.  It always hurt.  He told me to close my eyes and take a deep breath.  He said I wouldn’t feel a thing.  He lied.  My mom knew how terrified I was of needles, so she always promised me a toy and any snack I wanted after the shots.  I must admit, I was a momma’s boy.  It was very hard for her to see me cry and to see me in pain.  Sometimes I would see a tear in her eye as she tried to wipe mine.  I looked forward to those trips to the toy store, but I would have given away all of my toys to avoid getting those shots.  Needles were my phobia.

So, how in the world could I actually be willing to inject myself with a needle filled with a drug?  It didn’t make sense to me either, but the twist that my life had taken in the last couple of months had already confirmed that old saying for me, “never say never.”

Man…how could this happen to me?  How could I end up doing this? I had so much going for me.  I was 20 years old and living my childhood dreams.  As a kid all I wanted to do was be a pro football player.  I would be the next Tony Dorsett, or Walter Payton.  My dream was becoming a reality right before my eyes until those needles came into my life.  I was a good kid.  I loved people and always treated others as I wanted be treated.  Life was so good for me before the needles.  If I could have performed the way that I was capable of performing, in a couple of years I would have been drafted to “the league.”  The NFL is what we all dreamed about, but not all of us had the legitimate potential to get there.  But, I did.  What NFL team would draft me now?  Especially if they knew about my nightly ritual.

So how did I end up there, sitting on the edge of my bed preparing to inject myself with a syringe filled with a drug that would put me in a cold sweat in less than a half hour?  It happened so fast.  It is hard to explain, but I will do my best. After staring at the needle for about a half hour, I finally decided that I had to overcome my fear and just do what I knew that I had to do.  Drugs are very peculiar.  After a while the body begins to get accustomed to them and sometimes getting off of them can cause withdrawal symptoms that are almost as bad as the effects of the drugs themselves.  I hadn’t gotten to that point yet.  The side effects were still relatively new to me and they were kicking my butt.  I had to make sure that the door to my room was locked because I didn’t want any of my roommates to see what I was doing.  I wanted to keep my business a secret.  I didn’t want anybody on campus to know what I was doing.  It was hard enough to face people as it was, without them knowing any of the details. 

People talked about me a lot as I walked by them during the day when I did go out.  They just weren’t talking about the positive things anymore.  They used to cheer for me and wish me good luck.  But at this point in time, they just pitied me and whispered to themselves.  Sometimes, I could hear them.  They would say things like, “Oh My God, did you hear about what happened to Anderson?”  Or, “I don’t know how he can handle that, I don’t think I could go on.”  They would whisper at the next table during lunch about how glad they were that it didn’t happen to them because didn’t think they could deal with it.  Well…neither did I.  That was the main reason I stopped going out to lunch and just ordered food to be delivered.  I couldn’t take the gossip.  Even though my mom had packaged all that food for me, I was still too lazy and depressed to get up and microwave it myself.  It was easier just to order a pizza or a sub. 

People around campus could tell that I was very different and that I was going through an ordeal, but nobody knew about the needles.  I wanted to keep it that way, so I began secluding myself more and more each day.  It was almost to the point where I was becoming a prisoner in my own room.  I was beginning to spend more and more time alone in my room shielded from the world by a closed door, and the door had to be locked. 

I made the mistake of not locking the door a couple of weeks before and two of my teammates came into the room and saw me going through my side effects.  It wasn’t a pretty sight.  I will never forget the look on J.B. and Irvin’s faces when they saw the condition I was in.  They were my teammates and suitemates and their mouths dropped to the floor.  Neither of them said a word.  They didn’t know what to say.  They were both shocked and dismayed.  I could see it in their eyes, the horror, and the pity.  I never asked them what they were thinking when they saw me on the bed shaking violently and in a cold sweat, trying to hold back tears.  I can only imagine how I must have looked to them because I know how I felt physically.  The looks on their faces said it all. 

I remembered the old saying that “the eyes are the windows to the soul.”  If that is true than their souls were in despair over what was happening to their good friend.  Their eyes couldn’t lie.  After seeing the looks on their faces, I knew I made the right decision to keep my mother away.  I certainly couldn’t let her see me like that if my boys couldn’t even handle it.  If she cried when I was a child getting a little shot, how could she bare to see me like this? 

Anyway, I am pretty sure that J.B. and Irvin never said anything to anyone.  I was certainly not ready for everyone to know about my ritual at that point.  After I locked the door and walked back over to the bed I got my confidence up and reached for the needle.  I had already prepared it so it was ready to work it’s magic.  I knew that within a half and hour or so that the “grip” was going to get me.  I called the side effects the “grip.”  I called them the “grip” because once they got a hold of me there was no letting go.  There was nothing that I could do to escape the attack.  The “grip” was like a vice grip around my entire body, from head to toe.  The “grip” would not let me go no matter how hard I cried and begged.  It was pointless trying to negotiate with the grip or to beg for mercy.  There would be no mercy on that night, or any other for that matter.  I just had to endure the pain and wait for it to run its course.  It always ran its course.  But, after the grip wore off, I would feel better.  It would be worth it.  I had to believe that.  I had to have hope.  I had to have an escape from my reality.  The drug gave me hope.

Anyway, back to the ritual.  I had plenty of cold water on the nightstand for the hot flashes and I also had extra blankets ready for the cold sweats.  I had plenty of towels because I knew that I would totally sweat my sheets out.  I even had some Tylenol on the bed stand just in case the headaches and pain became too unbearable.  I had to turn my nightlight on in order to see what I was doing.  I didn’t want to miss my mark with that needle.  The drug wouldn’t kick in if I missed the mark so I had to focus.  With the light on I could see the one of the articles on the wall that my mother had framed for me.  She was always cutting out articles of me and putting them in scrapbooks.  I was her only child and she was so proud of me.  Anytime I was on TV she would record the games and the interviews.  But, her specialty was finding the perfect frame for the perfect article and showcasing it for me.  For this particular article, the headline read, “Superstar tailback Mike Anderson Comes Through in the Clutch.”  Man…. If they only see me now?

My mind began to race again.  “Thank God my mother can’t see me right now,” I said to myself.  It would kill her to actually see what I was going through.  To know about it is one thing, but for her to actually see it with her own two eyes would have been more than she could handle.  It would have broken her heart into a thousand pieces to realize that she couldn’t do anything to take my pain away.  I know she would have traded places with me if she could.  She would have given her own life if it could have spared me of that pain.  But, even she couldn’t help me with my pain.  I would have to endure that pain on my own.

I had to get my mind right and get focused.  I tried one of the routines that I would use when I was preparing for a football game.  I would always try to go into "the zone" right before a game started.  When I was successful, I could hear a pin drop in my mind in the midst of 50,000 screaming fans.  I was so focused and so confident when I was in the zone that I didn’t think anyone could stop me.  I tried to get into "the zone" before I gave myself the shot that night. It is not easy to get into the zone and I wasn’t successful on that particular night, so I would have to find another way to get through it.  Getting into the zone required a series of factors to come into play, and on that evening I just couldn’t find it….had to try though. 

Since I couldn’t find the zone, I knew that I would have to try to do it as quickly as possible.  It seemed like the quicker I did it, the less painful the piercing of the skin was.  My technique was almost like throwing a dart into my leg.  I thought to myself, “here we go,” and before I knew it the needle was in.  As the needle pierced the skin I could feel the sharp pain.  It felt like a hard pinch.  I could feel the coldness of the metal in my leg.  It was exactly the same feeling as when I was a little boy in Dr. McGuire’s office.  The difference is that I would keep my eyes closed while he gave me a shot.  This time I had to keep my eyes open and stay focused because I was doing the shooting and I couldn’t afford to miss.  As I began to push down on the syringe I could feel the liquid pressing into my leg and dispersing throughout my thigh.  It was very painful, but in the long run I believed it would accomplish its’ purpose. 

After I had finished I carefully took the syringe out of my leg.  Taking it out slowly and carefully decreased the bleeding and the bruising.  Eventually, I would get to the point that it would be bloodless, although always painful.  I turned the light off and then stretched out on the bed and waited for the “grip” to kick in.  I had about 30 minutes before the shakes would begin, so I wanted to use my time wisely.  When I first began using the drug I would watch TV for the half hour to keep my mind off of the grip, but there was no way to get around it.

I was very afraid at that point in my life.  I didn’t know if I would survive this.  I didn’t know whether I would live or die.  I had read stories about young people in the same situation that I was in, who were dying as a result of it.  I was petrified.  I really couldn’t talk to anyone about the pain I was in, physically or emotionally.  I had to keep it to myself.  I was trapped in my own private hell.  I wasn’t very religious at all at that point in my life, but when I thought about dying I got really scared and thought about God often.  I thought about dying a lot during that time.

I decided to use those 30 minutes to try to meditate and think about what was happening to me.  I tried to think about God, but deep in my heart I knew that at that point of my life, I didn’t believe in the God that I was taught about.  I would ask myself questions like, if there were an omnipotent God, why would He allow so many innocent people to die everyday?  Why would He allow people to suffer so if He had the power to Change it?  It wasn't so much that I didn't believe there was a God that created the world; I just didn't believe that He was in control of our daily lives.  I didn't believe He was omnipotent.  If he was, I felt like He must have been cruel.  If there was a God, why was he allowing this to happen to me?  If God is omniscient, then He already knew what I was going through.  If God is omnipotent than he had either put, or allowed this pain in my life that I had to use drugs to try to deal with, did He not?  (25 minutes left until the “grip”).

I tried to pray during those last 25 minutes, but I got no answers from God.  So, I just sat there thinking, what will become of me?  All of my dreams were gone now.  No more pro football for me.  No more fame.  No more headlines.  No more fans for me.  No more packed stadiums.  No more adulation.  (15 minutes left). There were only whispers and stares for me now.  Nobody asked for autographs anymore.  There were no more posters, interviews, or newspaper clippings for mom to frame.  The frames I had on the walls were all there would be.  The cameras were no longer around.  Where were all of the girls that adored me before? Where was the posse that always liked to hang around when I was the man?  I guess I wasn’t a ball player anymore, so why hang around me?  Or, did I just push them all away?  Would I live to see my 21st birthday?  I didn’t know the answers to any of those questions.  (10 minutes left)

Would my girlfriend stay with me through all of this?  I was falling in love when I got the bad news.  Her name was Deanna Parson and she had become the love of my life.  Why would she want to stay with me now?  I had no future.  All the dreams that I had for us were up in smoke.  We hadn’t been together that long, so the roots didn’t run deep enough for her to stay with me through this ordeal.  I don’t think I would have stayed if the situation were reversed, to be honest.  What if I did make it through?  Who else would want me?  I was like damaged goods, I thought to myself. (5 minutes left).

It is very interesting when I consider what went through my head when I thought about the possibility of dying at 20.  I would have thought that family would be my number one thought and priority.  My family was priority and I clung to the love that my parents had for me and I for them.  But, for me it seemed like my primary concern was whether a girl that I had only known for a couple of months would stay with me.  In retrospect, it seems like such a crazy thought.  But, that is the thought that consumed me.  I didn’t have any control of what my heart wanted me to do.  When my brain was left unchecked, my mind tended to wander in the direction that it chose.  During that crucial time in my life, my girl was my heart and minds’ first choice to think about.  Forgive me mom.  She was the first girl that I had ever met that didn’t know I was a “football star.”  For that matter, she was not even a football fan.  She was very genuine.

She was truly beautiful.  She was tall for a girl, about 5’7” and maybe 120lbs.  She had a slim physique.  I never had to have a girl with the biggest breasts and biggest behind…..had to be fine though.  Deanna was fine.  She had medium length brown hair and a beautiful brown complexion.  She used to wear cocoa butter lotion everyday and it always smelled so sweet to me. 

I met her only a couple of weeks before I was dealt the devastating news that sent me on the path that I was on at that time.  She fell in love with me despite the news and my dilemma.  I don’t know if I would have allowed myself to fall for someone that was dealing with what I was forced to deal with.  But, she did and I loved her for it.  Instead of spending the last 10 minutes of precious time that I had before the “grip” kicked in thinking about God or my parents and family, I thought of Deanna Parson.  (Times up)

The Grip

I really can’t explain exactly how bad the “grip” was.  The closest thing that I can compare it to, is having the worst possible flu symptoms that a person could ever have and multiplying them times ten.  It would start with a throbbing and pulsating headache.  Then, a few minutes later the chills would begin to kick in.  I would feel like my whole body was beginning to freeze.  My teeth would begin to chatter and I would try to pull layer and layer of covers over me and contort my body into the tightest fetal position that I possible could in an attempt to get warm. 

On that particular night I remember calling out to my mother out of reflex…. “Ma!”… “Ma!” “What am I doing?” I thought myself.   She always took care of me when I was sick before.  But she wasn’t there this time.  She couldn’t be.  I really didn’t want her to see me suffer like that.  She always told me that I would always be her baby.  Loving mothers can not handle seeing the children suffer, and I was her only one.

I had a portable heater close to me on the floor on one side of my bed.  Chill bumps popped up all over my arms at first, and then over my whole body.  But, no matter how hard I tried to get warm, I just couldn’t.  After I while, I went from one extreme to the other.  I went from the coldest of cold to the hottest of hot.  It was almost indescribable how I could go from freezing to burning up in a matter of seconds.  My body temperature rose so fast.  My body broke out into cold sweats in an attempt to lower my body temperature and I had to kick the covers off of me because I was sweating profusely.  I had a small fan on the other side of the bed to turn on when the fever kicked in, a cold rag, and a bowl of ice cubes to suck on and rub on my forehead.  

This cycle of cold, then hot, cold, then hot, seemed to alternate endlessly that night.  First there was 20 minutes of heater, then 20 minutes of fan.  After that subsided, the nausea kicked in.  I felt the need to vomit, but I didn’t have any food in my stomach.  I always kept a small trashcan right beside my bed so that I could roll over and vomit right into it.  I was too weak to get up and go to the bathroom.  I certainly couldn’t get out of bed when the cold phase had kicked in even if I did have the energy, because I had to keep those blankets around me.  I didn’t have the energy to get up anyway, so it didn’t really matter.  The grip sapped me of all my strength.  During the hot feverish spell, I got so wet that when I tried to get out of bed, the cool air from the room hit my wet body and sent me back under the covers for warmth.  I had made that mistake before and I should have known better.  So, the trashcan beside the bed was the best option. 

Even vomiting was painful because there was really nothing in my system to regurgitate.  Therefore, I dry heaved over and over again, which was excruciating.  My stomach felt like I had a stomach virus, but I wasn’t sick from a cold or flu.  Even though I didn’t have the flu and was perfectly fine 10 minutes before the side effects kicked in, the drug gave me all the symptoms of the worst flu I have ever had, long before it would make me feel better.  The grip was quite brutal and it lasted throughout the better part of the night until I finally fell asleep from the fatigue.  I would usually fall asleep around 3 or four hours after the “grip” kicked in.  This particular night I think it may have been about 4 or 5 hours for some reason.

Anyway, I woke up the next morning very groggy, tired, and soaking wet.  My sheets were soaked as well, but I was too drained to get up and change them right then.  But, thank goodness the “grip” was gone.  It was like a demon that would come in the middle of the night and take me through hell like I had never experienced before.  I was in a difficult situation because in order to get what I needed from the drug; “the grip” was a part of the deal.  The drug was helping me deal with my problem, but I couldn’t get away from the “grip” no matter how bad I wanted to. Until my system got acclimated to that drug, I would have to deal with the demon every night.

Over time I got used to it.  Over the course of the next few months my body would begin to develop a resistance to “the grip” and the effects would subside tremendously.  I began to able to handle the side effects much better and the drug became a part of my life without the demon tormenting me every night.  I began to get very skillful with the needles.  I still never liked them, but just as my body was beginning to get used to the side effects, my mind was getting used to the idea of the nightly injection ritual.  But, on that night, I was just relieved to be able to finally fall asleep.

 

Chapter 2

The Visit to the Health Center

I guess your question is pretty obvious.  What kind of news would have a promising young student athlete with the whole world in his hands and a great future ahead of him performing a nightly ritual like this?  Well, words are a very powerful tool.  Words can change a person’s life overnight.  When I was a kid I used to hear the expression, “sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you.”  I believed that once, but after the summer of 1987, I couldn’t believe that any longer. 

The date was Friday July 10th, 1987.  It was a little over two months before the night that I just described.  It was the very last day of the first session of summer school when I went to the health center to get my yearly physical.  It was a beautiful sunny day.  There was a slight breeze blowing in my face as I rode across that sprawling campus on my scooter.  Boy, did I love that scooter.  My dad had bought it for me prior to my freshman year.  It was a top of the line Honda Elite 150.  That bike was amazing.  It was candy apple red with a small red trunk on the back for me to put my books in on the way to class (that is, when I went to class).  I would always lean forward on the scooter and put my feet on the rear passenger foot pedals to give it the feel of a racing motorcycle. 

I most definitely had my coolest pair of sunshades on that day with a fresh haircut.  All the girls loved to ride with me on the scooter and all the fellas wanted one.  I was on top of the world because I had finished my last summer school class and I would be heading back home that afternoon for the rest of the summer.  I had just finished lifting weights and running.  Life was good.

As athletes, it was important for us to be in tiptop physical condition.  Playing football can be very dangerous and hazardous to your health, particularly if you have any type of condition that can prohibit you from exerting the type of energy necessary to make it through the tough practices.  With that being said, we had to take an intense physical every year or we would not be eligible to play.  Several football players across the country had died over the years from heat related injuries, etc.  The families of loved ones who died on the football field have sued universities, and won large settlements.  So, the physicals were taken very seriously.  Thank God for me the nurse who gave me my physical in the summer of 87’ took her job so seriously.  If she hadn’t, I might not be alive today.

Her name was Julie Edwards.  Mrs. Edwards would end up becoming my first guardian angel, although I didn’t realize it at the time.  Anyway, I knew that I needed to get the physical that day because I was going to be moving out of the dorm and going back home within a matter of hours.  It was much more convenient for me to get it out of the way while I was on campus, so right after I finished my last workout at the weight room I jetted across campus to the health center.

When I got there everything was going great.  I really didn’t mind physicals because there were no shots involved.  The only reason I was ever afraid of doctors was if there were shots.  After I was escorted into the examining room and waited for a few minutes, I met Mrs. Edwards for the first time.  She was a sweet, mild mannered blonde haired lady.   She was very attractive from what I recall.  She was probably in her mid to late 30’s at the time.  She appeared to be passionate about her job and was very careful with me.  She gave precise instructions before she did anything and explained everything with such detail. 

Mrs. Edwards told me everything that the doctor would be checking for, along with the reasons why.  To be honest, I didn’t even care about all the details and I had been through physicals before so I knew the routine. I just wanted to get it over with so I could go home for the rest of the summer.  Mrs. Edwards was aware that I knew the routine and was trying to speed up the process, but that is just how meticulous and precise she was about doing her job.  She seemed to be indifferent about the rush that I was in.

Dr. Steven Fahey, who was the team physician, came into the examining room and after exchanging pleasantries he gave me my physical.  The irony of my whole story was that I passed the physical with flying colors.  Dr. Fahey was a wonderful doctor, but an even better human being.  He was tall and lanky like a basketball player.  He had to be about 6’4” tall and very slender, with dark graying hair.  He seemed to always have a smile on his face.  He took his time and had a very relaxed and calm bedside manner.  I told him that I hoped I wouldn’t have to see him at all during the season.  Having to see Dr. Fahey meant that you were injured, and I had seen him way too much the previous season because of a hamstring injury.  He and I had gotten pretty close over the two years that I was there, as he nursed me back to health on a couple of different occasions. 

Anyway, when he was finished checking me out, he left me with Mrs. Edwards to complete the paperwork and wished me good luck on the season.  She told me that I was in great shape, but I had worked out so hard over the summer that I already knew that.  I wasn’t being cocky, but I was feeling so confident and proud of myself.  I had never worked out harder than I did that summer.  The previous spring I was in an all out battle for the starting tailback spot with another great tailback named Bren Lowery.  Bren had taken advantage of my hamstring pull and beaten me out of the spot the year before.  Even though we had come out of high school the same year, he had been red-shirted and was technically a class behind me. 

If he had entrenched himself ahead of me on the depth chart, I would have never had the opportunity to start.  The only way that I would be able to reach my ultimate dream and get to the NFL was to win the starting spot back, which I had successfully done during the spring after an intense competition.  But, I knew how close the competition was and it could easily go either way once two a day practices started in August, so I had to be ready.  I had to be more ready than I ever was before.

So, I trained like I never did before and I was at a level of conditioning that I had never been in before.  Therefore, when Mrs. Edwards told me that I was in great shape and wished me luck, she was preaching to the choir.  I was 5’10 and 180 lbs., with 4% body fat.  Nobody could tell me anything.  After Mrs. Edwards told me I was in great shape and I thought to myself, ‘tell me something I don’t know’, something very strange happened.  I really have no idea what made me mention to her that I was anemic. 

I don’t want to over dramatize it and try to say that I heard the “Angel of the Lord” tell me to make the statement, “I am a little anemic, but as long as I take my iron supplements, I am good to go.”  I didn’t hear a voice in my head telling me to say it, but that is exactly what I told her.  It didn’t even make sense to my why I would have brought that up.  She didn’t ask me if I was anemic, or if I had any health problems before.  On top of that, I was really in a rush to get the heck out of there, so why would I even mention something that could potentially promote more dialogue?  Why would I even bring up a questions or an issue for her to consider, particularly when I could see how meticulous she was?  I had already passed the physical.  She was about to sign my papers and my dreams were about to become a reality. 

Well, Mrs. Edwards was on her job, maybe even too much so for my liking at the time.  She turned around and looked at me.  Then she looked at my file in more detail.  “Your file makes no mention of you being anemic,” she said.  It was no big deal to me.  I said to Mrs. Edwards, “I have been anemic since I was a little kid.  I have been taking Vitron C tablets as far back as I can remember.  It was never a big deal.  No doctor had ever told me that it was a problem. Lot’s of kids are anemic, right?”  I just always knew that I needed to supplement my diet with iron to counteract it and I did.  Well…. I did for the most part.  I could almost hear my mom right then saying, “Did you take your iron pills today, baby?”  “Yeah ma!”, which is what I would always yell back to her.

To be honest I guess I had a habit of not following through on things and certainly not on taking medication.  I really had not been taking my Vitron C like I should have.  Sometimes I took them and sometimes I didn’t.  It was never priority for me.  But, I was always healthy.  I was always in shape.  I was a football player after all.  I had to be on the top of my game.  Being anemic never slowed me down a bit.  I went from football season, to basketball season, to track season every year, with no break.  Who was healthier than I was?  I was that healthy without taking my iron pills every single day.  So, what was the big deal?

Apparently, it was a big deal to nurse Edwards.  She wanted to make sure that everything was fine.  When she looked at my Chart again, she noticed that I hadn’t had a blood test since I had gotten to the University.  The last blood test that I had on file was from High School, which had been 2 years prior.  Although that last test was normal, she felt as though I needed to have one on file just to be safe.  I was pissed.  Of course I hadn’t had a blood test since I came to campus.  They weren’t a part of our yearly physical and as afraid of needles as I was, I surely wouldn’t be volunteering to get blood drawn. 

“Is that absolutely necessary Mrs. Edwards?” I asked her.  I hadn’t been sick during my first two years there, so there was no need for a blood test in my opinion.  She insisted that I take one, just so they could have on file.  I resisted, but she said, “I will not sign off on your paperwork unless you take this blood test, which means you won’t be playing football this year.” I was so angry with her.  I just thought she was going overboard and I was upset because in no way shape of form did I want a needle in my arm.

She made a deal with me.  She said, “Since you appear to be so healthy, it is the last day of summer school, and you want to get home so badly, all you have to do is take the test and you can leave.  You don’t have to sit around and wait for the results.”  She had me between a rock and a hard place.  I really didn’t have a choice.  In order to play that year I had to have that form signed and she made it clear that she wasn’t signing anything until I took that blood test.  With that being said, I figured her deal wouldn’t be so bad.  I told her that I really didn’t like needles and she assured me that the staff was full of experienced professionals and that if I made sure to take a deep breath and relax, I wouldn’t feel a thing.  Yeah right…. I remembered hearing that before.

I had no choice, so I took the deal.  Of course I had to give her my look of disapproval before I left the examining room, but she didn’t care.  She said, “I am sorry that I have to force your hand on this, but it is my job to make sure that you are healthy and I must do that whether you like it or not.”  I told her that I understood, but I really didn’t. 

She gave me directions to the blood drawing room and I said goodbye to her.   I can remember vividly the long walk down the stairs to the blood drawing room.  The building was only 3 stories but it seemed like those stairs went on forever.  I was probably just moving at a turtle’s pace because I really didn’t want to go.  The blood drawing room was on the basement floor and it felt like I was going to a dungeon.  When I finally got there, it was cold just like Dr. McGuire’s office used to be.  I felt like the little kid again.  I was scared, but I couldn’t show it.  I was a big time football player know, so I had to be tough. 

The ten minutes that I had to wait seemed like an hour.  I was very anxious.  It had been a few years since I felt the cold sting of the needle and I had almost forgotten the best way to brace myself.  The other nurse that came in to draw my blood wasn’t nearly as nice as Mrs. Edwards was (at least until she insisted that I take this blood test).  This nurse didn’t say much at all.  She was all about business.  All I remember her saying was, “Good afternoon Mr. Anderson, I am here to draw your blood.  Which arm would you prefer?”  I thought to myself, ‘This lady must be crazy.  Which arm do I prefer?  Does one hurt less than the other?’  Anyway, I told her my left one.  In case I wanted to shoot some hoops when I got home, I didn’t want my shooting arm to be sore.  She put some alcohol on a swab and began to clean my vein for the needle.  She told me to relax and take a deep breath.  I did, but it didn’t help at all.

I tried not to look at the needle but curiosity got the best of me.  I saw the needle and I was scared for a brief moment.  My body tensed up and the nurse tried to get me to relax and breathe.  But, I couldn’t relax.  When the needle went in I was so tense that it was very painful just like I had anticipated.  I rocked in the Chair and she told me to “be still” in that cold tone of hers.  The pain didn’t last very long.  It was over before I knew it, but I still didn’t like it one bit.  That needle hurt like crazy, but I couldn’t cry.  I left the health center that day, packed up my belongings and went back home to Capitol Heights.  My plan was to “kick it” with my friends and family for about a month and work out every day until it was time to report to football practice on August 15th ready to kick butt and take names. 

Unfortunately, I never made it to camp that year.  That was the last normal Friday that I had for a very long time. I got a telephone call from the health center the very next day.  It was good ole Dr. Fahey calling me on a Saturday morning.  He told me that there was a problem with my blood test and that I needed to come in and retake it.  He didn’t give me any more details other than to say, “there was a chance that your vile had been exchanged with another person’s accidentally.”  I really didn’t think too much about it at the time.  I knew there couldn’t be anything wrong with me, so I told him that I would try to come in soon to retake it.  Dr. Fahey told me that I needed to come back immediately to take it.  He wanted me to come back that day.

Back to the HealthCenter

I should have known something was wrong when Dr. Fahey told me that it couldn’t wait and that I had to take the test immediately, but I missed the signal.  No doctor would actually call me on a Saturday morning unless there was something wrong.  But, I was honestly oblivious to the fact that there could have been something wrong with me.  Boy, was I wrong.

I really wasn’t afraid to go back to the health Center because of his call.  I knew there had to be some type of mistake on their part.  They had probably just mixed my sample up with someone else’s.  I told my mom and pops that there was a mix up at the health center and that they needed me to come back and take another sample.  The only thing that made me mad was the thought of having to take another blood test.  I was really upset about that because I didn’t want to feel another needle.  But, what choice did I have?  Dr. Fahey seemed serious and I couldn’t have anything coming between my dream season and me.  So, I hopped in my car and drove back up to campus. 

Dr. Fahey seemed a little concerned when I got back up to his office, but I was just more annoyed than anything else.  I said, “What’s up doc?  Did I absolutely have to come back here and take another test?  Dr. Fahey said, “Yes Mike.  I hate to make you take another one but it is very important to retest you to make sure that there is not a problem.”  When I asked him specifically what did he find in the test that would cause him to think something was wrong, he said, “the initial blood test indicated a high white blood cell count.” 

Hmm…. That shook me up just a little bit.  But, because I knew that I was so healthy there was no way that test could have been from me.  There must have been some mistake.  As much as I didn’t want to take the test again, I did want to clear up the matter and put to rest any fears that my white blood cell count could have been high, even though I really had no idea what a high count really meant.  He had one of the nurses come in and give me the test right then and there in the examining room.  I guess he wanted to make sure that there was no chance of an error on this one.  I had the blood drawn and it was painful as usual, but I was slightly concerned at this time and I wanted to know for myself so I was able to stay focused and deal with the pain.

The second hint that something might be wrong that I totally missed was when Dr. Fahey wouldn’t let me leave the health center this time to go home.  He asked me to wait in the office until the lab was able to get the results.  He promised that he would rush the process and I wouldn’t have to be there long.  I can’t remember exactly how long it was, but it seemed like I was waiting forever.  It was probably no more than a half hour or so, but when you have that kind of drama on your mind time slows down to a crawl.  I began to get very anxious as I sat there waiting for the results.  I still wouldn’t characterize myself as being scared because I still couldn’t conceive that anything was wrong.  I just wanted to get it over with and get back home to enjoy the last month before practice started and this was holding me up.

When Dr. Fahey finally came back into the examining room the look on his face told me that the news wasn’t good.  I was shocked by the look on his face.  That was the first time that I got really scared.  I asked him, “What’s the deal doc?”  You look like there is a problem.  He said to me, “I’m sorry to have to tell you this Mike, but there is a problem.  This test came back with an elevated white blood cell count also.  The first test wasn’t a mistake.”

I was speechless for a while.  There was a short period of uncomfortable silence as each one of us tried to find the next words to say.  I didn’t know what to say.  The first thought that crossed my mind was of my mother.  I was so glad that I was there alone, because if she had been with me and heard what Dr. Fahey had said, she would have probably fainted. There were so many questions.  “What does this mean Dr. Fahey,” I asked.  “It is way too early to tell at this point Mike.  There are too many possibilities to say with any certainty right now.  We will need to run several tests before we can pinpoint exactly what the problem is,” he said.  I asked him to tell me what some of the possibilities might be and he said that he wouldn’t want to speculate at this point.  He didn’t want to have my family and I worried about something that may or may not be the case. 

His main point was that we needed to begin to run more tests as soon as possible to try to get to the bottom of the situation and make a diagnosis.  He asked me if I wanted to be treated and tested at the Health Center, or did I want to be seen by my family physician.

Wow…what a decision to have to make for a 20 year old kid.  I meant no disrespect to Dr. Fahey and the health center, but the next thought that went through my mind was the fact that this wasn’t a hospital or a doctor’s office; this was a university health center.  I didn’t believe in my heart that there was anything wrong with my blood, so I guess it was easier to believe that the facility was not equipped to make such and assessment.  Therefore, not only did I prefer to go home, I wanted to get a second opinion from who I believed would be a more credible source.  I told Dr. Fahey, “I think I’ll have my family physician take it from here.”

As I left the Health Center I was in a daze.  I believe that my mind subconsciously tries to block out painful memories because some things from the past are as clear as day, while others are very fuzzy.  The ride home was as fuzzy as it gets.  I don’t even remember driving home.  I can’t imagine what specific thoughts were going through my head during those first 30 minutes.  It was like a dream that I woke up from and couldn’t remember the details of, but I knew it was bad.  I must have been in denial of some sort.  Before I knew it, I was pulling up to the driveway of my house and had no idea how I got there.  I sat in my car for a while trying to figure out what I was going to tell my parents.  I couldn’t possibly tell them the whole truth.  My mom couldn’t handle anything like that.  My pops would have flipped too if I had told him the whole truth. 

I must have sat in the car for at least a half hour before I came up with a story that I thought was plausible.  I wasn’t in the habit of lying to my parents, so I took my time trying to concoct a story that was believable.  I decided to just tell them that Dr. Fahey wanted me to go see my family doctor to have a routine second opinion on my blood work because the health center was having problems with their machine and he wasn’t confident that the readings were accurate.  I went into the house and saw my dad first.  He asked me about the mix up at the health center and if everything was okay.  I told him that my white cell counts came back a little high on Dr. Fahey’s test, but that he couldn’t be sure that the reading was accurate because of the previous malfunctions.  My father looked a little concerned and began asking more and more questions.  I assured him that it wasn’t a big deal and that I just needed to see Dr. McGuire to get everything cleared up. He seemed okay with that, but he didn’t want me to tell my mother what I told him.

Apparently my story wasn’t quite good enough for him not to be concerned, so he knew that she wouldn’t take it very well if I told her exactly what I told him.  He suggested that I leave out the part about the high white blood cell count when I told her and just say that the health centers testing machine was malfunctioning and I needed to get a blood test from Dr. McGuire, period.  He said that he was going to Dr. McGuire’s with me.  I figured he knew better than I did, so when I went down into the basement where she was doing laundry that is exactly what I told her.

My dad and I planned to go see Dr. McGuire on Monday morning without my mom, which was going to be strange because he never once took me to the doctor when I was a kid.  We decided not to tell her that he was going with me. 
 

2nd Opinion at Dr. McGuire’s Office

The date was Monday morning the 13th of July 1987 when my dad and I were preparing to go to Dr. McGuire’s office.  My mother questioned both of us, as we were about to leave.  She said, “Why are both of you going?”  She continued by saying, “that boy is 20 years old, I hope he doesn’t need you to hold his hand to take a shot.”  She was absolutely right.  I was old enough to go to the doctor by myself at that point.  I had my own car, so I really didn’t need either of them to go. 

We had already prepared just in case she asked.  He told her that we needed to stop by the Honda dealership and pick up an accessory for the scooter after the doctors visit, so we were just going to kill two birds with one stone.  The story turned out to be a good one because there is no way that she would have let me go to a doctor without her if she had any inclination that something could have been seriously wrong with me.  That is the kind of mother she was and still is.  If I had the sniffles she was running me to the doctor.  If I told her I had a headache even when I was in college, she would have been at my dorm room within the hour with medicine.  She has always been very protective of me. Many would say that she was overprotective, but she never cared what anybody said when it came to her only child.  My mother has come out of the stands at a college football game and jumped the guardrail to get onto the football field when I had gotten hurt in the past. 

When we arrived at the doctor’s office, memories began to flood my mind.  I hadn’t been there in several years, but it looked exactly the same as I remembered it.  It was a small, 1 level square office building set off by itself.  I remember the roof of the building was flat and I wondered as a kid how the rain could drain off of a flat roof building.  The inside had some of the oldest wood paneled walls that I had ever seen.  As a kid I would sit there for what seemed like hours waiting for my name to be called.  Those memories were all coming back to me.  Dr. McGuire still had some of the same pictures on the wall. 

As I went to sit down and wait to be called I noticed how much smaller the office seemed.  I had just grown up, that’s all.  But, I wasn’t afraid this time like I was as a kid.  Dr. McGuire would set all of this nonsense straight that Dr. Fahey was talking about.  I was in a real doctor’s office now and Dr. McGuire would call the Health Center and let them know that their equipment was faulty.  I was upset that I would have to take my 3rd blood test in 4 days.  But the reason was because of the pain of the needle, not because I was afraid of the outcome.  Little did I know at the time that the pain that I used to call pain was not even scratching the surface of pain.   

The nurse finally called my name and my pops asked the nurse if he could come in with me.  C’mon, pops.  I thought to myself.  I’m almost grown.  I don’t really need him to go in with me.  Part of it was because I didn’t want him to see me squirming under that needle.  But, when my pops made a decision there wasn’t any point arguing with him, so we both went in to the examining room to wait for Dr. McGuire.  For some reason all I remember seeing was wood paneling everywhere.  Dr. McGuire had a thing for that wood.

After a few minutes, the nurse came in and asked me to follow her to the blood drawing room.  Cool!  I almost forgot the procedure.  They never took the blood in the examining room.  There was a separate blood drawing room for that.  So pops wouldn’t have to see me squirm and acting like a punk.  This nurse was a lot nicer than the one who took my blood at the health center.  She was more like nurse Edwards.  She took her time and found just the right spot on my arm, left arm of course.  She gave me the 3rd blood test.  It still hurt, but it was nothing like what I expected.  When I went back into the examining room, I noticed that my pops looked worried.  That was odd for my pops.  He was always positive and motivational.  It was strange to even see him look worried, but I am sure he had to be.  My dad was never one to express his emotions to me and tell me that he loved me, but he always told me how proud he was of me.  He was always so positive, but today he looked very worried. 

Pops and I waited and waited for Dr. McGuire to come back to the examining room.  The second time that I really got scared was when I saw the look on the doctor’s face as he entered the room.  Over the previous couple of days, I had been paying much more attention to people’s facial expressions.  I had been going to see him for so long that I knew him pretty well.  I always liked Dr. McGuire, but he always seemed to be busy to me.  He was a short man with blonde hair and blue eyes.  He appeared be in great shape and was very conscious of his appearance.  His hair was always styled meticulously.  It never seemed to move.  I don’t know what kind of hair spray or gel he used, but whatever it was, it worked.  He was a good doctor but he always seemed to be rushing to his next appointment and didn’t appear to be a very sensitive type of person. 

He was really taking his time with me that day and seemed to be a little hesitant to talk to me.  I knew it was bad, because he was never into small talk before and he didn’t ever beat around the bush.  He was always so professional and business like before.  Bedside manner was not his forte, like it was for Dr. Fahey.  He appeared to be concerned about the way he presented the news to us, for some reason.  This time it seemed to take him a little longer to get the point, but it wasn’t long before he told us the results.  He told me that he had some alarming news.  To say that I got tense and nervous would be an understatement.  He said, “I can’t tell you exactly what the reason for the problem is, but the first test that you took at the health center was not wrong.  We came up with an elevated white white blood cell count of 105,000 and that a normal, healthy count is between 5,000 and 10,000. …blah…. blah…blah.”

I couldn’t even hear the rest of what he had to say because I was too scared about the 105,000 white blood cells.  I was speechless.  My dad was speechless.  We didn’t know what to say or do.  We didn’t even know exactly what it meant.  We knew that number sounded extremely high, but we didn’t know what it really meant.  There was another uncomfortable silence in the room, just like the one in Dr. Fahey’s office.  I finally asked Dr. McGuire to tell me exactly what it all meant, because as good as I felt and the type of shape that I was in, I couldn’t believe it.  In my mind I still didn’t think it could be that big of a deal.  I mean…I felt great.  I thought to myself that, maybe whatever it was, it could be taken care of relatively easy with some medication?  I have always been an optimistic person, but very soon after my optimism was put to the test.

Dr. McGuire explained to me that it was some type of blood disorder, but he would not be able to know for sure until I taken several more tests.  A blood disorder?  What exactly does that mean?  He didn’t want us to be too alarmed at this point, but he told me that it could potentially be some type of cancer…  I was devastated.  Cancer…Me…Can this be true?…. No possible way.  I am only 20 years old and in the best condition of my life.  How in the world could I possibly have cancer?  I couldn’t believe it.  I thought I was dreaming.  This could not possibly be happening to me.  Not now…. not me.

My father was trying to be strong for both of us, but I wouldn’t find out until later on how really afraid he was.  ‘How in the world can I tell my mom about this?’ I thought.

Dr. McGuire tried to get us to calm down because he didn’t know for sure that it was cancer.  That was just a possibility.  The only thing that he could be certain of was that there was some type of blood disorder and that I would have to go through a series of tests before he would be able to know for sure.  His office didn’t have the resources to perform all of the tests necessary in order to determine what was wrong with me.  He told me that one of the first things that I was going to need was a bone marrow test.  A bone marrow test….?  What is a bone marrow test?  I had never heard of that before, but I knew that it didn’t sound good. 

I asked Dr. McGuire about this bone marrow test and what it consisted of.  For the first time in all of those years, I saw the sensitive side of Dr. McGuire.  He really seemed to care.  He wasn’t rushing to his next appointment.  It was all about me.  He told me that it was a procedure in which the doctor goes into the bone and extracts marrow out in order to determine the condition of the individual blood cells.  I don’t guess there is any nice and comforting way to say that.

I couldn’t even respond to that.  The silence in the room after that explanation was twice as long as it was when he first confirmed the bad news.  They were going to go into my bones and extract marrow?  How do you get into someone’s bones?  I had never heard of such a thing, but all of the possibilities just horrified me.  I was scared to death.  At that moment, I was probably much more afraid of the test that needed to be performed on me to find out what was wrong, than I was of the potential disease.  Those wood paneled walls were beginning to close in on me.  Dr. McGuire could tell that we were very upset and began to attempt to assure us that the procedure was not as bad as it sounded.  He told us that the surgeons were professionals and performed those procedures quite often.  He tried to tell me that it would not be as painful as it sounded.  He lied too. 

After we gathered ourselves and regained our composure, it was time to talk about next steps.  We couldn’t avoid the situation.  I use the term we because I believed it would be extremely difficult to handle news like that without a strong support system.  The situation was not going to take care of itself, and it wasn’t going away.  Dr. McGuire asked us where we lived because the next thing that we had to do was have me admitted to a local hospital where the tests could be performed.  He suggested Doctor’s hospital because he had a relationship with an outstanding doctor by the name of Dr. Lewis Dennis.  He said that Dr. Dennis specialized in blood disorders, was an amazing doctor and a very good man.

We chose Doctor’s hospital for a few reasons:  Dr. McGuire recommended it so highly.  It was close to our house and Doctor’s Hospital had a pretty good reputation and they had all of the necessary facilities.  Doctor’s was in Lanham, Md., which is only about 15 minutes from where we lived.  We knew that I would have to be admitted, but we had no idea how long.  In case it ended up being longer than we expected, Doctor’s would be close enough for my parents to spend quality time with me.  Doctor’s Hospital would eventually end up being a blessing for me in disguise.  My mother had a surgical procedure there previously and had developed a relationship with her surgeon, who coincidentally happened to be the same Dr. Dennis.  During her stay in the hospital a few years before, all my mother ever talked to him about was her son and his accomplishments, so before I even met Dr. Dennis for the first time, he had already become a Maryland football fan and knew who I was. 

Anyway, needless to say the ride home from Dr. McGuire’s office was one of the longest and quietest rides I had ever been on.  I had been on 3-hour bus trips back from football games where we had suffered heartbreaking defeats that didn’t seem as long or quiet as that 10-minute drive home.  The whole ride home I just stared out the window, looking at the trees as we rode by.  Neither of us was prepared for what we had heard or what lay before us.  My pops always had an answer for everything. He always had something to say about everything.  He had advice for every situation under the sun and wouldn’t hesitate to give to anyone that was willing to listen, as well as many who weren’t.  But, not that day.  He had nothing to say.  What could he say?  Could he promise me everything would be all right?  No.  Could he tell me not to worry because he would take care of it for me like he usually did?  No.  I could see the worry in his eyes so he couldn’t tell me that.  I had never seen my dad look that sad before.  He just stared at the road with both hands on the steering wheel.  He never drove with both hands on the steering wheel.  I don’t even believe we were driving the speed limit. 

We weren’t regular church members and we didn’t talk much about God in those days, so telling me about the goodness of the Lord wasn’t going to work for me either.  There was nothing to say.  There was just a lot to think about on the way home.  I kept going over and over in my mind how to break it to my mother.  “Do I tell her that we got some bad news today?” I thought to myself.   Naw…that won’t work.  “I have to tell her some good news to soften the blow first.  I can’t just come right out with the bad news first.”  But, I had no good news.  I couldn’t tell her maybe the test was wrong.  We got the same results from two different places.  “Maybe I could tell a little white lie?” I thought.  Naw…that wouldn’t be fair to her.  She has raised me to be honest and she would never lie to me. 

Plus, my dad was with me and I couldn’t ask him to lie about something that serious, even if it could spare her feelings.  We had already told her a white lie about the visit in the first place. 

“Wow…. How do I tell her?”  I guess I should just come right out and tell her the truth.  Easier said than done.  How do you just break somebody’s heart?  There is no right or wrong way to say something like, “mom I have some kind of blood disorder.”  In that moment I knew that I could never be a medical doctor.  I couldn’t imagine having to tell people and their loved ones that they are going to die.  I just decided not to try to figure it out and just say whatever comes to my mind.

When we got home I remember my dad parking in the street in front of our house and walking up the steep driveway to get to the side door where we always entered our house.  My dad came to give me a hug and walk with me up the driveway, but we really weren’t used to all that mushy stuff so it was kind of uncomfortable.  He didn’t say anything.  He just squeezed me as hard as he could.  The driveway seemed steeper that day to me for some reason, or maybe I was just trying to make the walk longer because I couldn’t bear to see the look on my mothers’ face when I told her.  I knew it would destroy her.  Although I was 20 years old, she constantly reminded me that I would always be her baby.  As I opened the door opened into the kitchen and I could smell the sausage and eggs cooking.  She was preparing cheese eggs, which was my favorite. 

When I came in the house I remember her having her back to me, while she was focusing on the frying pan in front of her.  “How did it go at Dr. McGuire’s office, baby?  Did they get everything cleared up?”  I couldn’t give my mother that kind of news to her back and I really didn’t want her to be that close to a hot stove at the time either.  I paused as I tried to figure out what to say.  In the car I just assumed that the words would come to me, but they didn’t.  When I didn’t respond I guess she sensed something wasn’t right.  She turned around and looked in my eyes and from the second our eyes met, she knew that something was dreadfully wrong.  The eyes just can’t lie.  She had the glass peppershaker in her hand and before I could even open my mouth she dropped it.  Glass and pepper spread out across the kitchen floor.  I can’t remember exactly how it came out. 

I said something to the effect of, “mom…I may have some type of blood disorder….” 

All I can remember is that my mom let out a “primal scream” like I have never, ever heard before.  I have never seen my mother so devastated.  I had never heard her make the sound that I heard her make.  It wasn’t a yell.  It wasn’t a moan.  It was more intense than any scream that I have experienced.  What could I say to her?  I walked over to her and grabbed her.  All I could do was hold her and squeeze her as hard as I could.  We cried together for a while.  I don’t remember how long.  My dad came up behind us to hold us as well.  He didn’t cry though.  That wasn’t his style.  Nobody said anything.  I couldn’t tell her that everything would be okay, because I had no idea.  We all just held each other for a while.  I eventually left my mom crying and went to my room to be by myself.

Going into my room was very surreal for me.  When I was in high school I was very heavily recruited by every major college in the country.  I was always a fan of posters and each college knew that, so they would send me posters to put on my wall.  After 2 years of being one of the most highly recruited athletes in the history of DeMatha High School, I probably had enough posters to cover every wall in the house.  Although I didn’t cover the rest of the house, every inch of my room was covered with posters from big time colleges.  I even covered every inch of the ceiling when I was in high school, so that even when I was lying on my back, I would be able to dream big. 

There was Maryland, Syracuse, Penn State, LSU, North Carolina, UCLA, Stanford, Michigan, etc.  There wasn’t a big school that wasn’t represented in my room.  I never even liked the Naval Academy, but I had a poster of Napoleon McCallum on my closet door because he was going for the Heisman Trophy and I dreamed about winning one of those myself.  It was depressing to go into my room and see all those posters because if I had cancer, I would never be able to reach my dreams that I had as a kid.  The posters reminded me of goals that I may never reach.  I never cried though.  I just closed the door and locked it, turned out the lights and pulled down the shades so I couldn’t see the posters and got into the bed, face down.  It was hard for me to go to sleep because I could still hear my mother in the kitchen crying.  She couldn’t seem to stop crying.  My dad kept saying, “it’s gonna be okay Lois, it’s gonna be okay.”

Dr. McGuire had promised to call us after arrangements had been made to check into the hospital.  He wanted us to check in that night.  I was only hoping that he would call and tell me that there was some big mistake.  I made it through that first few hours somehow.  I really don’t know how.  There were a million things running through my mind.  If I only knew exactly what it was than I would know what I needed to do to get rid of it.  I would know exactly how long my recovery would be.  Maybe it would only be a couple of weeks and I could still report to football practice on August 15th?  It is crazy, but that was my biggest fear at the time.  Not that I could have a disease that could kill me, but whether or not I would have to miss any practice.  I had worked so hard to earn that starting spot.  I couldn’t give it up like this.  It was finally my time.  It was my year.  How could this be happening to me?

I wanted to go to sleep but I was having a hard time falling asleep that afternoon.  I felt like I was in the middle of a bad dream anyway and if I could just fall asleep, then I could wake up and the bad dream would be over.  Those posters on the walls seemed to be closing in on me, just like the walls in Dr. McGuire’s office.  Part of me wanted to get to the hospital immediately so that I could find out what was wrong with me.  The other part of me wanted to leave town and run away from it all because if I was going to die, I didn’t want to know.  But, as long as I didn’t know I had no peace. 

I was in a serious dilemma, with no way to turn.  Dr. McGuire said it was a blood disorder.  I had never heard of blood cancer.  I had heard of lung cancer, colon cancer, etc.  But, not blood cancer.  They could surgically remove some types of cancer, but can you surgically remove blood?  If it wasn’t cancer than what was it?  Anyway, I finally did fall asleep at some point during the day so I wasn’t awake when they called to tell me when I needed to be admitted to the hospital.  As I began to regain consciousness at about 5:00pm or so, I stared up at the ceiling in my room unsure if I was still sleep or awake.  The posters were staring back at me reminding me that my dream may be over.  As my mind spoke to my body, saying, “Mike its time to get up,” my mind was racing almost uncontrollably from fear, to anxiety, to determination, back to fear in an endless cycle, with no idea what I was competing against, but the clear and present knowledge that life and death may be hanging in the balance.

I never really fell into a deep and restful sleep during the hours before going to the hospital, but I tried closing my eyes, hoping for my mind to stop moving but it wouldn’t.  For a long while, after I awakened, I laid, seemingly paralyzed in my bed, with the room spinning faster and faster at a dizzying pace until I thought I would pass out.  As I finally pulled myself from my bed I felt like I had just gotten off the amusement park ride that had people pressed to the wall from the force of the cylinder we were in spinning so fast.  My legs were wobbly, and my mind dizzy and I was having trouble getting my balance as I stumbled to me feet.  Fear was winning.  I thought to myself, is this disease winning?  Am I dying?  I can’t seem to control my bodily functions.  This is so unfair.  I have the rest of my life.  I may never got to play pro football, have the family with children, the nice cars and house, buy my parents a nice home and cars to show my appreciation, the American dream – all could be gone in a moment.

I finally pulled it together and got my balance and was ready to get out of the bed.  I went into my mom’s room to check on her and see if she was okay.  Her eyes were bloodshot red, but she wasn’t crying anymore.  She was trying to pull herself together.  When my mom saw me standing in the doorway, she came to give me a hug and told me that I would have to go to the Hospital at about 7:30pm that night.  That gave me a couple of hours before my life would take a turn that I never anticipated, but it also left me with my thoughts for a little while longer.  I walked down the hall into the living room to see my father sitting in his favorite Chair staring off into space.  I didn’t say anything.  I just went back to my room.

I needed something to distract my mind, it was still racing fiercely between fear, anxiety and determination, and with every passing moment, Fear, growing bigger and bigger with anxiety as its twin and determination quickly fading.  This wasn’t me, this was the football game when everything was going wrong and it was on me to turn the tide in the face of all of challenges.  I couldn’t lose. I wouldn’t lose. I had to find a way to win.  I realized I desperately needed something to distract my mind to stop the vicious cycle so I could then focus and move things in a different direction.  I decided to start packing for my hospital visit, brainless duty, but it would keep my mind busy while I tried to refocus my inner being.  I packed like I was going away on a vacation.  We had no idea how long I would be there, much less what would be waiting in store for me. 

I called some of my closest friends to let them know that I had to go to the hospital for a few days to run some tests.  I didn’t want anyone to get too alarmed so I told all of them that the tests were precautionary and there was nothing to worry about.  I lied.  Before long, it was time to leave. 

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