After undergoing 6 cycles of intense chemotherapy, I was in remission and was able to go back home. My parents and doctors told me to ease into things slowly until I could get back to "normal life". But I was interested in none of that - as soon as the doctor told me it was ok to begin playing soccer again I started training seven times a week and twice as hard as everyone else to get back the time that I had lost. Everything was going well from that point and life was starting to become enjoyable again. I had won my battle with cancer and everything with soccer was going well. After almost three years of being in remission my second battle with cancer came as I had relapsed in early August of 2011.
With the doctors believing that just chemotherapy would not be enough they told me and my family that I would have to get a bone marrow transplant. At the time there was no good match for me in the bone marrow donor bank, so my mom took it upon herself to find a perfect match. She worked endlessly setting up donor drive after donor drive, TV interviews, radio broadcasts, sending emails internationally until our prayers were answered and we found a match. With the great efforts of my parents they were able to add thousands and thousands of new donors into "one match" (bone marrow bank).
Having defeated cancer before I promised my self that I would not let this disease take away my dream. This time the doctors prescribed me three cycles of chemotherapy followed by a bone marrow transplant. Even though I was going through excruciating pain I would take a ball and cones with me to the hospital and try to train so I wouldn't be so far behind the other athletes. My dad would hold my I.V. pole as I would dribble through cones and practiced juggling the ball. When getting my transplant I was put into extreme isolation and even if my mom wanted to see me she would have to wear full body gown, as I at that time had zero white blood cells to fight off any infection. I used my time in this tiny isolated room to train my mind to become stronger, so that when I got out I would have a stronger mentality. After about a month in isolation I was able to go home as my body accepted my new bone marrow and started to produce cells, I had won my second battle with cancer.
When I came out I was more hungry to achieve my dream than ever before and began training immediately. Having gone through so much pain and hardships, I was stronger then any of the other athletes because I was so mentally disciplined that training hard became natural to me and nothing less than giving 100% was good enough. It was because of these attributes that I was able to achieve success so quickly after my battle with cancer. After only 11 months of being discharged from the hospital I was noticed by a scout that sent me to play professional soccer in Spain! After all my hard work I had finally achieved my dream and was feeling on top of the world. But as the saying goes the higher you get the harder you fall.
After only one month I started to noticed bruises all over my body and went to take a blood test to see what was going on. When the results came back I was immediately rushed to the emergency room and put into isolation. They contacted my mother who got on the first flight to Spain and brought me back right away. From the airport we went straight to Sick Kids emergency as they were waiting for us and I now began my third battle with cancer. As I received the news that I had relapsed I was not scared that I was going to die, but I was scared that I wouldn't become a professional soccer player.
When we began to speak to doctors about treatment, they told me I had six months left to live. They said that my body has been under so much stress that the treatment might do more harm then good. I told them that I am different, I AM A WARRIOR AND I WILL BEAT THIS DISEASE. I came into this battle with the same mindset as the last battle, do the treatment, beat the disease, and get back on the field. Being the third battle with this disease my body was not as resilient as before so the treatment was much harder to endure. But where my body lacked strength I made up for it with my strong mind. I pushed through the chemotherapy, total body radiation and second bone marrow transplant and beat the disease yet again.
As strong as my mind was, if couldn't take away the fact that my body had been viciously attacked and I came out the hospital feeling weaker then ever before. I had lost a ton of weight, my skin was much darker and was just not feeling or looking healthy overall. For the first time I started to experience GVHD (Graph vs Host Disease). This happens when the body receives a new organ and doesn't recognize it as its own so it starts fighting against it causing horrific changes to the body. My entire mouth had become raw and I was unable to eat solid food or brush my teeth for over a year. My skin became so tight that it started to split and was creating giant legions in my body causing me to basically have no skin from the chest down. The wounds were so painful that I went to the operating room under anesthetic once a week just to change my dressings. A drop of water on my skin felt like acid. But the hardest thing for me has to be the aftermath of it all. It's been almost 2 years since these symptoms first came and thankfully everything has gotten better. I am able to eat and brush my teeth, and most of my skin has gotten better, but after all these issues with tightness in my skin it has left me with severe contractors in my knees, elbows and hips meaning I am not able to straighten my joints. This has made me unable to dress myself, be able to do my own hygiene care and worst of all walk.
After everything that I had been through I never imagined that I would be in a wheelchair and be unable to do the thing I love most, play soccer. The doctors told me my mouth would never get better, THEY WERE WRONG! They said I would never have skin again, THEY WERE WRONG! They said I would die, THEY WERE WRONG! And now they say that I will never walk again, I WLL PROVE THEM WRONG ONCE AGAIN!
I am fighter and me and my mom together can overcome anything. I believe in myself and my body that I WIILL WALK AGAIN. My mother has resigned from her job of over 15 years to able to be with me 24/7 as we work together to overcome this last obstacle of physical limitation together. We have been to specialists, and doctors internationally have told us that it is possible to walk again. My mother would do anything in her life to help me get better but the cost of all these treatments are just not possible as she tries to manage the mortage and refincaing the house and all of these treatments that I have been through over the years and it's not fair of me to ask all this of her. I just don't want my ability to walk, be independent, and be happy be taken away from me because of the expenses of all these treatments that are nearly impossible to pay for.
It has been a hard battle with Leukemia and a long road of pain and suffering and hope to come this far. We are grateful for all the love and support we have received to achieve this together.
There is still another great step to go further, all medical professionals have confirmed that I need multiple urgent aggressive surgeries in order to stand up and start walking again. Each surgery will take over one year, including rehabilitation time.
So I ask all of you kind people to help me and mother financially so that together we can overcome this obstacle, and prove that, Nothing is Impossible.
- Mark Limonov
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