THE FIRST THREE YEARS OF FIGHTING CANCER
When I was in the fifth grade, before I got sick, I remember one day at school. My friends were talking about a basketball team. Everybody was going to sign up. I said, "I want to sign up.!"
When I got home that day, I asked my dad If I could join. He told me we didn't have the money. Of course, I was mad. I kept on bugging him. His answer was stlll,"No." I think I really wanted to sign up because my other friends were signing up, I wasn't really Interested in the sport. I said, "If my sister gets to play baseball, why can't I sign up for something?"
I was so upset, I threw a fit. My brother told me he would try to get the money for me to sign up. I asked my dad again, and he finally said, "Yes". I was so happy. I went and told my friends the next day.
We had our first practice. At first, it was fun. After a while, It got boring and hard. Sometimes, I didn't want to go - so I wouldn't. I started not to like it.
Then came the games. On our first game, I was so scared. When it was time for me to play, I forgot everything I was supposed to do. After a few games, I got better. I really started to like it a lot.
When the season was ending, the coach had to pick some people out of the team for the All-Star Game. This would be our last game. I was one of the girls he picked. I was so happy.
We learned we were going to be put together with other girls from a different team. They would give us hard looks and make comments to us. We did It back. The coach told us that the girls whom we didn't get along with were now our teammates.
When we met them, they were nice. We all got along. They weren't as bad as we thought they would be.
After that, I got cancer. I wasn't able to play anymore because I had tubes in my chest.
When I was eleven years old, I found a tiny lump on the left side of my neck. I told my parents about It and they called and made an appointment for me to see the doctor. She looked at it and then gave me an antibiotic to take for ten days.
I took the pills for ten days like I was supposed to and the lump didn't go down. My dad called and made another appointment for me to see the same doctor. She saw me again and she referred me to a surgeon.
I went to see the surgeon, and he said he didn't think it was anything to worry about, but he wanted to see me every week so he could keep an eye on it. I was going to see him every week for almost three months. The lump wasn't going down. It was getting bigger and bigger and very hard.
The doctor decided to do a needle biopsy. I didn't want to have It done because I am scared of needles. But he did the needle biopsy, and then he told my dad It wasn't cancer. It wasn't as bad as I thought It would be. The doctor still wanted to see me every week.
In April, I went with my mom to my aunt's house in San Jose for the weekend. While I was down there, my eye started to hurt. The next day I woke up and my eye was red and big and so was my neck. We went home and my mom called and made an appointment with a different doctor. I wasn't really worried about it.
I went to see the other doctor. She came in and took one look at me, and she told my dad and me that I didn't belong there. She said that I would have to get an open biopsy done. She made an appointment for the open biopsy. I was really scared.
On April 29, my dad dropped my mom and me off at the hospital for the surgery. When I went In, they put an I. D. band on my arm and then I had to go in a room and change out of my clothes into a gown. Then I lay down on a hospital bed. My mom got to stay with me before it was time to go in. I started crying and told my mom I was scared. She held my hand. A guy came in and put an I. V. in my arm and then I really started crying. He gave me something through the I. V. to relax me. He told my mom it was time for me to go to surgery and then my mom told me everything was going to be O.K.
He started to push me to the operating room. We went through the hall and then into the room. As soon as I got there, I started crying. This nurse came to me and held my hand while the other nurses slid me onto the operating table. Then they put a mask on me and I was still crying. I became sleepy and then I fell asleep right away.
I woke up in the recovery room and my mom was standing next to me. The nurse came over and asked me how I felt. I said I didn't feel good, so she brought over a pan and I threw up. I felt better after that. She had me get up so she could see me walk. After that my mom helped me get dressed. I had to sit in a wheelchair and then the nurse pushed me out of the room. I saw my sister was standing there with my dad. She pushed me out to the car and we were on our way home. On the way home, my mom was crying and my dad was upset. I asked my mom what was wrong and she said she didn't feel good. So I didn't think anything was wrong. Nobody really said anything all the way home. I asked my dad if we could get something to eat. We stopped at Burger King and got some food. We then went home.
As soon as we got home, my mom went to her room. I went to the table and started eating. I saw my brother go into my mom's room. He came out and I went in. My mom was holding some papers in her hand and she was crying. I asked my mom what was really wrong, and she finally told me the doctor said I had a tumor behind my left eye and I had cancer in my neck. I was shocked.
I got up and went back to the table and sat down. I looked up at my brother and tears were running down his face. I guess that's when It really hit me. I went back into the room and I started crying. I told my mom that everything was going to be O.K.. I didn't know that this was going to be the beginning of a long, hard fight.
A doctor of oncology in Oakland heard about me and he wanted to see me right away so he could start treatment. But the same doctor I was seeing before said he wanted to do more tests. So the oncologist argued with him and said if there were any other tests to be done, he would do them. So I went to Oakland to a meeting with the doctor.
The oncologist told us what I was going to be going through. He told me that I would get a brovlac in my chest so I could get treatment. Then he took us in another room and asked thls little boy to show me his broviac. The little boy showed me his. I wasn't too happy about getting it put in. That day I had all the tests done. Then I had to go through surgery all over again.
After that, I went to the tenth floor. They had to put an I. V. in my arm because the tube wasn't ready to be used.
On May fifth, I received my first treatment. I asked the nurses a lot of questions because I wanted to know what they were going to be doing to me. I was really scared about getting my treatment.
By the sixth and seventh of May, the swelling in my eye went down. I was so happy. I ran and told my mom. She said she already saw that it was smaller when I was sleeping. She was happy too.
I was in the hospital for a week. After that I was admitted in for six day treatments. I would usually stay a lot longer because I was really sick and weak. I would also go to Berkeley for radiation, and then I would return to the hospital. I was getting mouth sores and I couldn't eat. When I tried, the food didn't taste good. I Just didn't eat.
My doctor decided to put a feeding tube in my stomach. I was upset. I didn't want another tube. It was already hard for me to take care of my broviac. My weight had gone down to 70 pounds from 110, so I had the tube put in.
I became very close to the nurses. At first, I thought I was the only kid going through this but I was wrong. There were many other kids with cancer.
I started to lose my hair and that was really tough for me. I didn't want to see any of my friends, and I wanted to wear a hat all the time. I didn't go anywhere without the hat.
I did everything like I was supposed to. I never gave up. I wanted to fight this cancer and that's what I've been doing. Sometimes, I would break down and cry, telling my mom I was tired of fighting. Somehow, I pulled myself together and fought.
I felt really uncomfortable when I went somewhere because people would stare at me. I would cry and tell my mom about it. People would laugh because I didn't have any hair. I remembered that before I had cancer, I would do the same thing. Now I know what It feels like, and it doesn't really feel good.
While I was in the hospital, I met a little girl and boy. The girl was about three-and-a-half and the boy was about four. At one point, they were my roommates. I didn't know them that well, but I became really close to them. One day my mom was reading the paper in the hospital and she saw their names In the paper. The paper said that they had died one day after another. I was really upset. I started crying. I didn't understand. They were so little, they didn't even get a chance to grow up. That really hurt me. But now they were in a better place and they didn't have to go though any more pain.
I also met an eight year old boy who had been fighting cancer for a long time. He told the doctor that he didn't want to go through chemotherapy any more. After that, he didn't go through chemo any more and he did die. Again, I was upset when I heard that news.
I was scared of dying. I would cry because I didn't want to leave my family. I wasn't going to give up. I was going to keep on fighting.
March, 1993, was a happy month for me. I went into remission. I had a party at the hospital. My mom made a lot of food and my dad bought a cake. All the nurses came and so did my doctor. I was so happy. I became a lot stronger and I hung out with my friends. I even started to eat.
When I went into remission, I was able to play basketball with some friends from high school. I wasn't as good as I was before. I wasn't that strong. I ran out of breath a lot, but I tried my hardest. I was so happy that I had a chance to play again.
Two weeks later, I found a lump on my chest. My parents called my doctor and I went to see him. He looked at it and he said It might be my hormones growing wild. I told him I knew It was my cancer. They did another biopsy, and it was cancer. Now I had breast cancer.
I was crying. I was really depressed. Now I had to start everything all over again.
My brother came and stayed with me in the hospital. That was really special to me. When it was time for me to eat, I didn't want to eat. It was hospital food and personally, I don't like hospital food. I would give it to him. He made a deal with me. He told me to try it or else he wouldn't eat. So I would try the food and then I would give it to him.
After a while, they were going to give me a bone-marrow transplant. I was put on the "Transplant Board." Doctors from all around Northern California consulted. They decided that It would be too hard for me. I would be in the hoapital for a long time and it wouldn't cure me. The chances of it working were five percent, and even if it did work, there was a ninety-five percent chance it would come back. That news was really hard for me to hear. I started crying. But, I still wasn't going to give up.
In August of 1993, the doctor had a meeting with my mom and dad. He told them that there was nothing he could do except keep me happy and comfortable. My parents and the doctor came into my room and told me the same. I started crying, and I told the doctor I didn't want to die. My dad was crying and so was my mom. That was the first time I ever saw my dad cry. It was a very hard day for me and my family. But I stlll wasn't going to give up. I knew I had to keep on fighting. Since then, I have gotten a lot stronger. I don't have to wear my hat anymore. I don't worry what people think. I have learned a lot going through this.
I like to spend a lot of time with my family. I try to do as much as I can while I am strong enough.
It's been really hard for my brother and sister. We get into a lot of fights because I get a lot of attention. My brother and sister would get real mad, but now we are a lot closer. My sister and I get along better. We fight 'once in a while, but that's what sisters do.
I really learned who my friends were. My older friends are always with their boy friends. When I am very sick, they will come around. Otherwise, they're not here. It really hurt me at first. I understand that if that's what they want to do, that's their life.
Right now, I am fourteen years old and It's 1995. I have been fighting this for three years. I still have breast cancer and I'm going through radiation. I will keep on fighting. I think my parents are heroes. We have been through a lot. My hair Is growing back, and I don't have tubes anymore.
It's getting hard for me now because I keep going through radiation. When I finish my treatments, my lumps grow right back. I know the radiation is not going to cure me. It's Just supposed to make the lumps go down so they won't hurt me. It gets upsetting. I Just keep wondering where a lump is going to pop up next.
Sometimes, I just sit and think. I wonder how long I have to live. Then I start crying because I don't want to leave my family. I want to be able to grow up and become a nurse or doctor - maybe even a writer. I want to finish school. Most of all, I want to be with my family. I wake up everyday and wonder, is my time getting closer?
Raquel Toefo'i Rath fought cancer for three years. She fought with courage and with her family by her side. She passed away at Kaiser Permanente at Vacaville, California. She is survived by her parents, Ron and Katerina, and brother Ron Jr. and sister Ruby Rath, and lots of aunties and uncles in Hawaii and American Samoa and all around the world. Her warmest words of encouragement to her mom, Lina, "Mom, look for me in the sky, when you see the biggest and the brightest star, that is me!"