Cancer survivor realizes what life is all about

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Cecil continues to recover after second bout with Leukemia

By Lindsay Kriz

KPA Summer Intern


Andrew Cecil, 25, of Lebanon sits on his couch, a pill tray in his lap and a list of the names of each pill he has to take at least once a day. There are 15 pills listed on the paper, not including a shot called Neupogen, which is for blood-thinning and is injected into a port near his heart. 

Cecil was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia on Sept. 27, 2005, after he made an emergency trip to his doctor. He was 19 years old.

"My white cell count was high and my red cell count was low," he said. "They were all off whack. The doctors said if I'd waited another day or two, I might've died."  

After diagnosis, Cecil immediately began chemotherapy.

"It was terrible," he said. "I swelled like a damn whale. My bones and joints ached. That was the worst part." 

Cecil said he also dealt with constant nausea, vomiting and gaining and losing weight. After chemotherapy he would take a growth factor shot, which helped his blood cell count replenish. 

"I was pretty strong-minded," he said. "At one point, I was about to unhook myself and say that I was going home." 

Eventually, Cecil struggled with an addiction to pain medicines for two years. In particular, Cecil became addicted to Oxycodone. At first his intake of the drug was regulated, but eventually he was not allowed the drug at all, although for a while he would purchase the drugs from dealers.

"It was a mental challenge," he said. "My shoulders would tingle, I couldn't sleep. When I was without I'd think, 'I've got to find something.'" 

Eventually, Cecil overcame his addiction and his cancer went into remission. He believed his bout with it was over. He held this belief until September of 2010, when he was re-diagnosed during his five-year checkup. 

Cecil had a bone marrow transplant from his brother, Scott, on March 15, and was readmitted to the hospital on April 22, after suffering a seizure. 

But, despite these factors, Cecil said the worst part of his second bout with cancer is his battle with memory loss.  

"The doctors had never seen that before," he said. "I don't remember the bone marrow transfer, being re-diagnosed, etc.," he said. "I can't remember what happened from my diagnosis up to last Tuesday." 

His sister, Jessica, remembered watching his struggle.

"He thought I worked at a grocery store after I was four years away from it," she said.

Elaine, his mother, said that in order to help Cecil regain his memory, she would help him test sequence things.

"I'd ask him, 'What'd you have for lunch?' and have him try and repeat it back to me," she said. 

Cecil said that his doctors believe that the possible cause for his memory loss is a drug called Sirolimus, which is an anti-rejection drug that helped his body accept his brother's bone marrow, since Scott was only a half match. Cecil has since been taken off of the drug, and has been prescribed more anti-depressants.

"I've had a few bouts of depression," he said. "I'm getting down because of it." 

In particular, Cecil's anti-depression medications were increased when he learned he could permanently not join the Air Force. Cecil said that he plans to return to the University of Louisville and earn his master's degree if he gets better.

"College and chemo wouldn't mix too well," Elaine said. 

Cecil said that through his ordeal he has definitely lost some of his faith.

"I'm a doubting Thomas now," he said. 

However, Cecil's faith in his friends and community hasn't wavered. According to his mother, the community has sent items including cards, cakes, Easter baskets and money to the house. However, some donations have been from people who didn't know Cecil personally, but heard about his story. One donation that stood out to the family was the anonymous donation of money from a person in Arizona. Overall, the family has collected about $1,000 to $1,500 from donations, Cecil said. 

 "Before that we'd been in a real bad financial situation," Cecil's father Jim "Bean" Cecil said.

Since his diagnosis in 2005, Cecil said he's grown so much, and now feels physically and mentally older than he actually is.

"I now realize the simple things in life are the best things," he said. "I don't get upset over the small stuff. I did before all of this." 

Currently, Cecil is in his second remission and will be on anti-viral medication for the next six months. He is going to James Brown Cancer Center in Louisville for weekly blood work. 

"I realize what life is all about now," Cecil said. "It's about loving your family, being happy and doing what's right." 


Relay for Life is Friday

 This year's Relay for Life event will begin at 7 p.m. Friday, at the Graham Memorial Park expansion in Lebanon. Registration will begin at 6 p.m. The event will include different activities, including a luminary ceremony at 11 p.m. for those who have lost their lives to cancer, and a free breakfast beginning at 5:30 a.m. The event will conclude at 7 a.m. This year, 13 teams will be competing. Each team will be responsible for an activity every hour. According to Lisa Sandusky, this will be Lebanon's 15th Relay for Life event. The first was held in 1997. In case of rain, the event will be held at Floral Hall.