Cancer In Young Adults ... Through Parents’ Eyes

Narratives & Stories

James Christopher's story

James Christopher was 24 years old when he died of colon cancer on June 11th 2009. He was hoping to become an air traffic controller but became seriously ill in April 2009. The following account of his illness is written is by his mother, Mary.

I am from the United States and live in the State of New Mexico. This has indeed been the most difficult thing I have ever had to do in my life.I am a single mother and me and my son were also best friends. He was not ashamed to ask his mom to go hang out with him and his friends. In his MySpace he listed his grandfather as his hero. The following a quick summary of what my JC went through.

My son James Christopher (JC) passed away 6/11/09 at 6:34 pm. He was a vibrant, lovable, beautiful son who was only 24 years old and had so much more life to live. He loved to play pool, loved hot air ballooning, cooking, music, playing guitar but mostly spending time with his family and friends.

JC lived about 2 ½ hours away from my home and had been staying with my sister and her family. He was a college student for 3 years but had decided to take a break and was working as technical support for a telephone company but was actively looking into becoming an Air Traffic Controller. At the beginning of April he started to complain about aches and pains in his arms and wrists. He had carpal tunnel in the past so no one was alarmed he was aching. By mid April he was calling me that the pain had intensified and he had gone to urgent care to get some kind of relief. By the last week of April, JC was calling just crying the pain was just too much to bear. I drove to where he lived and when I arrived he was locked in his room, completely in the dark, just crying. I decided right then and there that he needed to come home with me and we would seek medical help.

We immediately made our first appointment to see a neurologist. This appointment was simply a waste of our time. The physician took no interest in how intense the pain was and told us to come back in late July or August and see how he was doing. In the meantime they would try and schedule an EMG to try and see if indeed it was carpal tunnel. I asked what we were supposed to do in the meantime because he was such pain and was simply told “I suggest you get the yellow pages and start making calls yourself and try to get another appointment with another doctor”. So I did. This went on until we had seen about 8 or 9 doctors. In the meantime the pain was worse and JC was losing use of his legs, arms and was now feeling such intense pain he could not get up on his own or walk on his own.

Finally a neurologist made an urgent appointment for an MRI and to see another physician for a complete blood workup, physical, etc. Within days, May 29, 2009, the report from the MRI had been faxed to me at work indicating disc and bone deterioration but also suggested further tests as the MRI indicated swollen lymphs and some other concerns. By this time JC could hardly walk and was screaming in such pain and was getting bloody noses and spitting up blood and we still had to wait 4 more days until the next appointment.

That weekend was the longest weekend of our lives. He now had lost all use of his body. He was constantly screaming in pain and could not control his bodily functions. I spent day and night with him, feeding him, cleaning after him, and rubbing his legs endlessly to try and ease the pain. Sunday night was one of the worse nights and JC asked me to sit next to him. He then held my hand and told me, “Momma, one of these days, you know, when you are with your friends out eating dinner. Will you order something that I like just to remember me?” I started to cry and asked him why he was talking like this and he tried to ease my pain and said he did this all the time to remember me. That night was one of the most horrendous nights. That night I lay on the floor next to where he was lying and cried and cried. I knew something was terribly wrong but I did not know what. The next morning I arranged for an ambulance and he was transferred to a hospital in hopes maybe they could help me.

JC was transferred to a hospital in Albuquerque to try and figure out what was happening to him. After the first day he was put in isolation as they thought he had tuberculosis. In the meantime, painful after painful test followed with all the physicians coming into his room stating they had no clue but hinting they believed it probably was some sort of cancer. By the time JC was diagnosed it was cancer he only lived 4 more days. By then he lost his eyesight, was coughing up blood, blood oozed through his pores and he was in such intense pain that all he did was scream. My brave son never ever cried in the hospital but did say how scared he was. Even after I was told he had cancer it never once entered my mind that this beautiful creature would soon be leaving my life. I never left the hospital for those 11 days. My sister also stayed with me and she was the brave one that stayed with him when I needed to step away to compose myself or just could not deal with what was going on.

Right before he passed away the nurse informed me that if I had anything to say to my son I needed to do it right away. How do you say good bye to the most precious gift of your life? How do you ease their pain and let them go? My only child was gone and never got to really fall in love, have children, and live life to its fullest. He was so afraid of losing his job because he had started to look for a new car. He was finally coming into his own and we were not only mother and son, but because I was a single mom, he was my best friend.

My brother just received a telephone call today (July 16, 2009) from the pathologist that received the results from the tests that were done on JC after he died. It was definitely colon cancer but they have not seen such a silent and aggressive cancer…especially colon cancer in a 24 year old. They believe he probably did not have cancer more then 2 months. By the time he first started feeling the aches and pains it was already too late it had spread throughout his body.

The emptiness and quiet is so loud at times it is unbearable. Most of the time I do not know how to carry on. The heartache is unbelievable. I am angry, I feel guilty, I feel sad, I feel hopeless, I feel so alone….