Prom is a Wonderful Thing

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Recently the story of 14 year old Katelyn Norman of LaFollette, TN was brought to my attention, and while I am often reminded of my own cancer experience when the experiences of other young adult cancer patients and survivors are brought to my attention, Katelyn’s stood out. It isn’t so much that we share the same debilitating diagnosis of Osteosarcoma, bone cancer, or that she has the fighter’s spirit that I uncovered in my own personal depths of hell, but rather our strong desire to go to Prom.

In the Spring of 1999, as I struggled to even attend three days in a row at Desert Vista High School, Prom was about the only thing (when I did make it to class) anyone was talking about. As a member of the first graduating class at DV, Prom was a big deal, and like my peers I had long dreamed about my Senior Prom. However, unlike the strapping young lad I always envisioned myself being, decked out in a tuxedo and with a beautiful date on my arm, I was bald, sickly looking…I looked like death, I’m not going to lie! Finding a date could have gone one of two ways…pity or…well pity. In the end I picked the perfect date, a Junior named Kim. We had gone to my Junior Prom together and had a great time, and she did me the great honor of saying yes for a second time!

As Prom approached my group of friends took care of the planning, Pre-Prom pictures, limo rental, dinner, etc. I was getting around in a wheel chair and on crutches, not yet recovered enough from surgery to walk on my newly cancer free left leg, and had begun the last few weeks of chemotherapy treatments. When the week of Prom arrived things took a turn for the worse, as I was admitted to the hospital for being neutropenia and anemia. blood transfusions and daytime TV were my daily routine, and not much else. As the weekend approached I was nervous that I wouldn’t be allowed to leave the hospital for one, and that I wouldn’t be allowed to go to Prom even if I did get out. A large group of friends and my favorite teacher made a surprise visit, and seeing all of them made me want to make it to Prom even more. One of my parents even brought my Tuxedo and hung it up in my room…a symbol of something so close, yet so far away.

My oncologist, who is one of my favorite people of all time was not familiar with Prom, as he grew up in India (something tells me he became intimately familiar with its importance when his two daughters were in High School!) We talked it over and the initial plan was that I would be released from the hospital, go to prom, and then come back to the hospital. It wasn’t the dream I had long had, but it would work given the situation. The next day the oncologist on call released me from the hospital and said I didn’t need to come back, and to just have fun! With little time to get ready once I got home, I got dressed as quickly as I could, practiced a bit with the cane I had decided to use and then it was time!

My friends, dates and their parents arrived, and we took about 100 too many pictures, but hey this was better than being in the hospital! Kim, my date, looked beautiful as usual…and if my chemo addled brain is correct she wore a dark blue dress that looked amazing! My best friend Chris and his James Bond white dinner jacket cracked jokes and kept the mood light, and before I knew it we were piling in the limo, headed to dinner. I maybe ate two bites that night, too weak to do much of anything, but everyone had a good time. The Prom was at the Arizona Science Center, actually a pretty great venue for the prom. The rest of the night was a blur, but I did dance twice, hated the cane, but most importantly I had a good time. With Prom over a ton of people came back to my house to hang out for a bit, but I was done. I got in bed and begged my parents to take me back the hospital. All my friends left for other post-Prom parties and I exhaled, knowing I could finally go to sleep. I was in pain, sick, and a bit scared. But, I was happy knowing I had made it to my Senior Prom!

I know that Katelyn couldn’t make it to her prom, but I was tremendously moved by the efforts of the community to bring the Prom to her. While some may think people place too much importance and spend too much money on these youthful rights of passage I say just remember that some people’s dying wishes include going to Prom and that is perfectly ok.

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