The Journey to Cancer Survivorship Begins

Five years—a significant and important milestone for someone who has beaten cancer. Although cancer survivorship begins the first day of treatment, five years cancer-free signifies an important milestone of survivorship from the disease. Four Diamonds young adult Marcus continues to work towards feeling like he once did prior to his cancer diagnosis. 


Marcus' Cancer Diagnosis

Four Diamonds survivor Marcus’ story is well known within our community over the past five years. At the time, he was a high school football standout being recruited by Harvard, who was attending a school assembly, where the speaker was describing the signs of leukemia. Marcus quickly realized he had recently been experiencing the same symptoms as the ones described and texted his mom. During the month before the school assembly, he had been having excruciating back pain, jaw pain, night sweats and nose bleeds that would last for hours. His parents took him to the hospital for some tests, where Marcus was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

College and Cancer: A Difficult Battle

Marcus battled ALL for the better part of three years. In August 2018, during his sophomore year of college he rang the bell at the Penn State Health Children’s Hospital celebrating the end of his cancer treatment. “College was tough,” said Marcus as he discussed going to college while receiving cancer treatment. “It was a big adjustment going from taking classes at home my senior year of high school to going to college full time while I was on treatment. I would go from daylong chemotherapy treatments to chemistry and biology labs that would last 3-4 hours long. Although those times were tough, I think having to go through that experience made me extremely resilient and showed me that I could do anything if I gave it my all.”  While attending college simultaneously with cancer treatment proved challenging for him, he graduated from Gettysburg College with a degree in biology in 2022. Now more than a year out of college, he is proving to himself that he can do more things, while still trying to get back to a normal lifestyle.

Surviving Cancer: Side Effects

For a survivor, going back to life before a cancer diagnosis is not always attainable right away, as there can be a multitude of side effects from the treatments. Marcus’ battle with side effects involves a condition called avascular necrosis. Avascular necrosis can lead to tiny breaks in the bone and cause the bone to collapse because it kills bone tissue. Marcus has avascular necrosis in both of his hips, knees and ankles. To date, he has had a double knee replacement and two ankle surgeries. His hips are holding steady, but he’ll have more ankle surgeries in the future.

Marcus continues to power through with his goal to feel as happy and healthy as possible. Currently, he works for a research lab for applied research: putting his degree in biology to good use by testing pharmaceuticals. He also continues to help others going through cancer through numerous fundraising efforts. 

Four Diamonds Survivorship Program

Now a survivor, Marcus is part of the Four Diamonds survivorship program at Penn State Health Children’s Hospital. This involved a long day at the hospital where he met with medical staff, his social worker, and had lots of tests. The biggest part of the survivorship program for Marcus are his yearly check-ins at the pediatric oncology clinic until the age of 30. His team will continue to check for those long-term side effects from treatment that haven’t occurred. “Long term side-effects stress me out,” says Marcus. “These check-ups are great, and I am very thankful for them!”

Advice for Children Battling Cancer

For Marcus, seeing other younger kids go through their cancer battles inspired him to get better. His advice to these kids? “Always believe in yourself to the fullest. I know some of you are younger and it may be harder to understand what’s happening. Always believe you are going to make it and look for the positivity in each day. Carry positive energy and positive thoughts. This is how I got myself to where I am today.” Of course, he also got to where he was today with the constant support of his family and friends. “My parents and my siblings have always been so supportive,” says Marcus, “and my friends from both high school and college always made themselves available to talk to when I needed support.”

Five years. Congratulations Marcus.