Aaron Knight is soft spoken and unassuming as he talks about the earliest memories of his childhood. The 21-year-old college junior recalls playing with other kids, but instead of spending that time on a playground, his playdates were on the oncology ward.
Aaron was born with a variety of complications, and spent the first few months of his life in the hospital with doctors trying to figure out exactly what was going on. He was 5 months old before doctors diagnosed him with leukemia. He then spent the next few years in and out of the hospital receiving chemotherapy and radiation. The one constant, he recalls, was his mother always being by his side.
Beating the odds
At such a young age, Aaron had no idea what cancer was or what he was facing, but his mother certainly did. The initial prognosis for her son was poor, but Aaron surprised everyone.
“They would tell my Mom I had only had 5 months to live, then they would say 2 months to live, but every time I surpassed it; I beat it.”
Aaron’s memories of his first years of life are admittedly vague, but he does have snapshots of this period – like one Easter spent on the oncology ward, playing with other kids, coloring eggs and making cookies.
And when Aaron decided he didn’t want to eat the hospital food, he recalls his mother “always bringing a hot plate up to my room and making me eggs to make sure I was at least eating.”
Happy to be a ‘Mama’s boy’
One memory is especially vivid though – his mother’s presence by his side, day in and day out. Aaron’s mother quit her job so she could be with him during his time in the hospital. “Taking care of me was more important to her than any job,” he says.
So as one would expect, Aaron and his mother to this day are bonded in a very special way because of his cancer experience. Aaron laughs as he says, “Most people say I’m a Mama’s boy and I’m totally OK with that.”
He recounts that his mother “always tried to give me as normal a life as possible, and she taught me things like all other kids learn – how to tie my shoes and ride a bike.”
“I just never really remember thinking I was any different from other kids,” says Aaron.
‘A huge deal’
It wasn’t until he was 3 and out of the hospital, going to daycare, and playing with other kids, with a tube still in his chest, that Aaron realized something about him was different. “Other kids would ask why I had a tube in my chest but I couldn’t really explain it to them; still, they didn’t treat me any different.”
At the age of 4, Aaron was told he was in remission, a huge relief for him and his family. Though doctor visits were frequent to check blood levels and any indications that his cancer may have returned, Aaron says, “I was never fazed by all my visits; to me it was just another trip to the doctor.” He even recalls, “I was so used to it that I would even tie my own tourniquet so they could draw my blood.”
Unlike his mother, who was well aware and fearful of the possibilities of a recurrence, Aaron says, “I was 7 or 8 before it set in that I even had cancer; that I had survived cancer and what a huge deal that was.”
Thankful to be a survivor
Life went on normally for about the next 8 years, but then Aaron and his family had a scare. In 7th grade, he noticed what he thought was a bump on his calf. But doctors told Aaron and his mother that it was a tumor. He remembers, “My mom and I just looked at each other with fear; I knew what it could mean. It was really the first time I was ever scared.” Fortunately, the tumor was benign.
And then, yet another scare came when Aaron was 16. This time it was a cyst on his earlobe, and again, the growth was benign.
But since then, Aaron’s had no more tumors and no more scares. As a 21-year old junior, majoring in political science at Prairie View A&M University in Texas, no one would know Aaron once had leukemia and was given little hope. And no one would know he lived most of his first 4 years in a hospital undergoing cancer treatment.
But Aaron knows and remembers and wants to help support others who have shared his cancer experience. He says he is thankful every day that he speaks as a survivor.
He participated in his first Relay For Life his junior year of high school. He was honored as a cancer survivor at his university’s Relay For Life in April. And this summer, he proudly says, “I became a volunteer for the American Cancer Society.”