Leader of the band

Teen faces leukemia with courage

Teen faces leukemia with courage

November 05, 2005|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

WILLIAMSPORT - Collin Jackson isn't sure when the cancer cells started to crowd the spaces between his joints, but he felt it.

The 17-year-old said it hurt so much that holding a pencil in English class was excruciating. Playing his sousaphone, something that used to be enjoyable, was unbearable.

Then one day, he lost feeling in his tongue and mouth.

Something just wasn't right.

In September, after spending months going from doctor to doctor trying to figure out what was wrong, Collin finally got his answer. He was diagnosed with leukemia.


"I didn't even know there was a chance I could be cured from it," Collin said.

The diagnosis meant more than enduring long hospital stays, streaming cocktails of chemotherapy, spinal taps and around-the-clock morphine, he said.

For him and his family, it meant reassessing what really was important.

"There are days I call my best friend, and she takes me on top of a mountain and I cry and scream," said Glenda Jackson, Collin's mother. "After I get it all out, I say, 'I'm not going to outlive him.' That's every parents worst nightmare. It feels like your heart is being ripped out of your body."

Glenda Jackson, who is a nurse, said Collin's humor is what has helped the family keep it together.

During Collin's first hospital stay, his parents saw tears streaming from his eyes when nurses asked him to rate his pain. But he still told them it was only a "four" on a scale of 10.

"Everyone knew it was much worse than that," Glenda Jackson said.

"The killer bees" was Collin's term of endearment for the three nurses who had to give him a shot in his arms and left leg - all at once.

They counted to three before punching the long needles into his flesh, Glenda Jackson said.

Larry Jackson, Collin's father, remembers watching him laugh and cry simultaneously when it happened.

"They told me that they've never seen anyone laugh like that," Collin said.

If Collin's determination to beat leukemia didn't show in his sense of humor, it showed in his desire to march with the Williamsport High School Blue Band again, said Lisa Jordan, director of the marching band.

Collin is tall and stout, the build most people associate with tuba players, he said.

When Collin marched, he would spin and flip his sousaphone in the air. He used to bend his back so far that the bell of the horn touched the ground. But when he got sick, just getting through rehearsals became a chore. He has yet to perform with the band, Jordan said.

Jordan sets up Collin's sousaphone with a picture of him at each show so that he still is in the band, even though he's not there physically, she said.

The band sent him a recording of their first performance, taking care to zoom in on the display, Jordan said.

This year's Showcase of Marching Bands, held Oct. 11, came one day after Collin had a chemotherapy treatment. Generally, he needs days to recover from the treatments.

"He said to me, 'I don't care, I'm going to walk on the field. I can make it,'" Jordan said.

Collin led the band onto the field that night. It was the first and only time he has marched since he was diagnosed, Jordan said.

"Whenever I finally got there, I thought finally, 'I'm back,'" Collin said. "Everything felt like normal again."

Collin said he was too tired to play. After leading the band out, he walked back to his wheelchair and watched them perform.

Collin said he doesn't want people to feel sorry for him. He tries to maintain a positive outlook on things, but said that was hard to do sometimes.

"Once, when I was laying on the couch, I had this voice going off in my head saying, 'You're 17, you have cancer. You're not going to get a chance to do the things you want to do,'" Collin said. "But then, you go from feeling like you're going to die to feeling like you don't have to worry about it anymore.

"I'm not afraid of dying. I'm afraid of not living. I'm not afraid because I know I'm going to heaven. I'm just afraid of getting there too quick, before I can do all things I want to down here on earth."

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