The Day My World Changed

My name is Jeff Bryant and I’m a 6ft 8in, 24-year old former high school basketball player from Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. During junior and senior year, the team I played with won the Group 1 State Championship, Shore Conference Championship, and back-to-back Sectional Championships. We won two championship rings each in these two years, something that most athletes don’t have in a lifetime. My original plan was to continue my basketball career at whichever collegiate program that would accept me. Little did I know, my life would soon take a sharp turn down an unexpected path that would completely change my life, forever.

The first week of June in 2014 became the moment when my world completely changed. My father noticed that my left thigh appeared larger than my right. Initially, we thought we were favoring my left leg when I was lifting weights, so worked out my lower body with one leg at a time. However, my bigger leg was weaker than my smaller one, which did not make any sense. On Thursday, June 5, I underwent an x-ray of my left femur in hope that we could find some answers to this mysterious anomaly. The following day on Friday, June 6, 2014 my mother called me at school. She told me I needed to sign myself and head home immediately, so I did so. When I arrived back home, I saw my mother hanging up my thigh x-rays against the window to show me the results. On my left femur was a 38-centimeter-long tumor, which covered basically the entire bone, bordered with my knee, and was three centimeters short of my hip. As my mother revealed this to me, I did not know how to react or what to expect to happen next. All I knew was there was clearly an issue and it needed to be fixed as soon as possible.

On the morning of Monday June 9th, 2014, my parents, older sister and I traveled up to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City for the first time. We met my primary oncologist, along with his team of co-workers who would share in their efforts to medically treat my cancer. We also came across my orthopedic surgeon, who at the time would become the person who would save my leg. This group of doctors had me undergo every single type of test anyone could possibly take in the entire hospital. This included x-rays, bone scans, ct scans, echocardiograms, MRIs, hearing tests, etc. All of the tests took three long days of commuting back and forth to MSK. After the doctors examined these scans, my surgeon performed a biopsy, which occurred on June 18. In such a procedure, he carefully removed some tumor cells to be studied in the lab. The result of the biopsy served as the final confirmation of my diagnosis, and would determine how we were going to fix it.

The next day on June 19, my family and I returned for my follow-up appointment to finally find out what was lurking inside my left thigh. I had been diagnosed with a rare bone cancer known as Osteosarcoma. It was not the news we had hoped to hear, because now there was definitely going to be a long road ahead of me. My treatment would consist of one ten-week cycle of chemotherapy in an attempt to trim the tumor, surgery, and two ten-week chemo cycles. In total, my treatment lasted nine months; given there would be no interruptions to my treatment plan. During time prior to surgery, I had to walk half-weight bearing with crutches. Such instances were due to the fact that Osteosarcoma feeds on your healthy bone, causing it to become brittle and possibly breaking. If the tumor area breaks, the cancer will spread rapidly throughout the entire body, and chances of survival drastically decrease. Therefore, my parents had to become overprotective of me, which was not very flattering for an 18-year-old young man like myself.

The day after my final diagnosis came my graduation from Point Pleasant Beach. It was hard to believe that my years in high school had actually come to an end. I never would have imagined it would end with me as a cancer patient, but yet that turned out to be the case. I attended the ceremony in a wheelchair because it took place on our football field. The entire crowd stood and cheered as I accepted my diploma. A few people even chanted “J-E-F-F Jeff Jeff Jeff,” (a name that was given to me when I played basketball). Our class president gave me the honor to help him lead the cap tonsil procedure. Point Beach was a real home to me, and I am forever grateful to have gone there. Although my time there did not end the best way possible, I created so many memories and gained some of my best friends out of my high school experience.

My first day of chemotherapy… My mother and I left early to beat the morning traffic on the way into the city. Once arriving at MSK, we met with my oncologist to discuss my chemotherapy. The chemicals I would be given are Doxorubicin, Cisplatin, and Methotrexate.

These caused many side effects: neutropenia, nausea, mouth sores and put me at a higher risk for late effects on my heart and kidneys.

After meeting with my oncologist, it was time to start the fight. My mother and I walked over to the outpatient chemotherapy area and checked in at the desk there. We were assigned to my chemo bedroom where I met my outpatient nurse for the first time. My nurse injected two IVs through a port, which was implanted into my chest during the biopsy as a previous precaution to the likelihood diagnosis. In came the hydration, and then my first dose of chemotherapy. My mother and I both entered into treatment with a positive attitude as we told ourselves we were going to beat this cancer. At this point, I still did not know what to expect, I only knew that whatever I was getting was going to help me get back to good health. My first ten-week cycle of chemo came and went, which lasted for the entire summer of 2014. The entire community rallied behind us. Everyone who knew my family or me would also come to come show their support and bring thoughtful gifts. People even made bracelets for me, which were yellow (the color for bone cancer awareness with blue lettering that spelled out J-E-F-F Jeff Jeff Jeff). It was so incredibly nice to know that I was not fighting my bone cancer alone, and that matters.

In September 2014, I had a thirteen-hour surgery to remove the tumor. My femur and knee were replaced with a titanium rod and an artificial knee. After being hospitalized for ten days, I had to work through severe pain, but I got back to work again. The tumor was finally out of me, but there was still much to do about the cancer cells that were spreading beyond my femur. In fact, my doctors had also spotted a few cancerous nodules that spread to my lungs, and soon surgery was needed to remove those as well. The few tiny areas of cancer that metastasized there had already been killed by the chemo, but it was still good to have it removed. The rest of my time getting chemo went by fast. During this time, I got to gather with other teenage patients in the teen and young adult lounge of my hospital floor. It was there that I got to make some special friends who I was able to bond with and share similar stories. On Saint Patrick’s Day of 2015, my nine months of chemotherapy finally ended and I was declared cancer free. Words could not describe how it felt to finally be done with cancer treatment, but it was an incredible feeling and it was now time to move forward in life.

My victory over cancer though did come with a price. I could no longer play basketball, and with my new leg condition it could no longer tolerate such impact. Fortunately, there was another passion I always had since I was a young boy. I always wanted to work for a history museum, as I have tremendous passion for both history and museums. Therefore, I decided that this was what I was going to do next with my life. However, my days with basketball did not completely come to an end. In fact, during the entire winter season I was going through treatment, I assisted my high school basketball coach with my former team. The past two years have been an era of consistent improvement for me. I not only did I finish rehab, but I made the dean’s list in three out of my last four semesters.

I graduated from Flagler with my degree in Public History this past spring, although it needed to be celebrated in quarantine due to the coronavirus. I will continue my education at George Washington University in Washington, DC to pursue a Master’s in Museum Studies. I aim to fulfill my lifelong dream of working for a history museum with all of the opportunities that will be offered to me. Three of my favorite professors at Flagler put in a ton of time and effort in writing letters of recommendation for me, while also helping me write my personal statement for my application. The assistance they provided for me helped me get into grad school.

As an inspiration of the challenges I faced the previous few years, I currently operate an Instagram blog (@beatbonecancer). Its purpose is to give guidance to others who are also battling bone cancer, along with raising awareness for it. My hope is to give current patients something I did not have when I first started, which is someone to let them know what they can expect from treatment. I feel that by serving such guidance to those going through what I went through, they can feel more hopeful that they too can beat bone cancer. There are many people that I want to thank for helping me reach this point of my life. I want to thank my entire family, doctors, nurses, and staff who granted me the best at Memorial Sloan Kettering. Also, I would like to thank all of my friends and instructors both at Flagler and Point Beach for supporting me through challenging times. I want to thank the Frances Foundation for giving me opportunities to have fun during my tough stages and for allowing me to be a part of a second family of people who also know cancer well and last but not least, I give my thanks to God, for guiding me through these challenging years. I would not have made through everyone of the challenges bone cancer gave me without them.