“My name is Christopher (Chris) Nieves and I am from East Hartford, Conn. I am the youngest ‘boy’ of seven children from Militza Nieves (Mami Millie) and Victor Nieves (Trikki Trikki). I am 16 years old, and at 16 years old you should be spending time with friends, enjoying life, and thinking about graduating high school. Cancer never really seems to be something you’re worried about, until now!” – Chris Nieves, Facebook post four days after blood cancer diagnosis.
Until now, Nieves spent his free time working as the muscle (assembly guy) at a family-owned DJ and sound rental business — Bulldog Audio DJs – where he was known, on occasion, to show off his merengue skills when being silly; he spent a lot of time with friends and family watching and cheering on his favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys; Nieves had worked hard in school and was recently placed on the honor roll, a challenge that he met in order to keep playing football, his great passion; and until now Nieves didn’t have to fight fatigue on a daily basis, undergo repeated intensive treatment, and be secluded from school and other public places due to a weakened immune system.
But Chris is strong, and his motto reinforces his strength: “Leukemia, you messed with the wrong guy!”
When people are asked to describe Chris, “strong” is a staple word, hence the Facebook name “Chris Stong.” Just as is brave, positive, and courageous. Despite this unlucky hand, Chris has maintained his strength and positivity, wavering only momentarily when he first found out.
“I was at school, and a security guard found me and asked if I was Chris Pagan, and he told me my mother was [at the school],” recalled Nieves. “I was surprised to hear she was there.”
Even though Nieves had been to the emergency room the night before — after his night out watching the Dallas Cowboys vs. Cleveland Browns game with his dad and friends was cut short when he began to have extreme back pain – he, still, never could have guessed the nature of his mother’s visit.
“I didn’t think much beyond the idea that it was weird my mother was there,” said Nieves. “That is, until I saw her crying.”
Nieves was ushered into a secluded room at which point he recalls his mother telling him in a “crying tone that I had leukemia.”
After his visit to the emergency room the night before, after MRIs, CT scans, blood draws, bone marrow biopsy, and lumbar puncture (spinal tap), the hospital diagnosed Nieves with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, a form of dangerous blood cancer.
As he recalls that pivotal moment, Nieves focused on how much his mother was upset. His mother’s feelings seemed to take precedence even at such a heavy moment in his life. But he did feel the intense blow of the news.
“For a second I was terrified,” recalled Nieves. “But immediately following came a wave of incredible positivity and strength, and I was like: ‘Let’s go beat this. Let’s go beat cancer.’ Honestly, my first thought was, I’m going to be able to say I beat cancer. And I told [my mom], I tried to calm her down, because she was very emotional, and I told her: ‘Mom, we’re going to be good. We’re going to get through this.’
“When I informed my friends I lost it for a second, but they immediately gathered around me and said, ‘We are not going to leave your side, and we are going to get through this.’ And that gave me enough strength to leave school on a positive note.”
After that moment, after “everything changed,” Nieves’s family and friends gathered around in droves, and have not left his side. Nieves created a Facebook page under the name of Chris Strong, and there you can see updates; the page has been filled with posts from friends and family, with prayers, and kind words. There are pictures of his brother and sister’s new tattoos that read “believe” in his honor. There are videos that document his packed hospital room, with so many people gathered around that in one video the nurse enters and hesitates as she tries to find him in the crowd. There are pictures of him surround by family and watching his beloved Cowboys take on another team – he also made a point to let everyone know in one of his posts that the Cowboys did win the game he wasn’t able to finish watching the day he ended up in the emergency room (35-10), because Nieves isn’t going to let a little thing like leukemia take that joy away from him.
Nieves isn’t planning on letting cancer take much of anything away from him, except maybe a little of his energy. Fatigue seems to be the current main complaint of the treatment. However, Nieves says he was feeling fatigue prior to being diagnosed as well.
“I started noticing changes in my body,” Nieves wrote on his Facebook page. “I was tired, a little more than usual. I didn’t want to do the normal summer activities with my friends or family.”
As Nieves continues treatment, fatigue will continue. “They told me I would experience fatigue when chemotherapy or radiation therapy destroys healthy cells in addition to the targeted cancer cells.”
In his Facebook update Nieves explains that “fatigue may occur as your body tries to repair the damage to healthy cells and tissue. Some treatment side effects such as anemia, nausea, vomiting, pain, insomnia and changes in mood, may cause fatigue. (Not my case yet, but who knows what’ll happen?) Some people just feel fatigued for nothing and everything at the same time (look at my Dad sleeping in one of the pics.)”
Nieves then apologized for having to turn away visitors, and said he looked forward to being well rested for their next visit.
Nieves has been able to leave the hospital and is now back home with his family. Before his release date, he informed his readers: “With God by my side, I feel fine, energetic, healthy, alert, etc. I feel like myself and have pretty much felt, since about last week.)
Despite Nieves’ constant upbeat nature, he does take a serious tone as he informs readers that “I’m not trying to make light of chemo. It involves some serious pharmaceuticals that can knock people on their butts. But cancer is a disease of more than 400 different types; and among those 400 types, there are sub-types; and among those sub-types there are different stages of disease; and for each of these there are often different courses of therapy, including different variations of chemotherapy. And then those different variations of chemotherapy are applied to people who fall on vastly different points of the healthiness spectrum. It makes generalization problematic. The Doctors came in my room, a few minutes ago and informed me that if I continue doing as well as I have… I’ll be home by Wednesday! If that isn’t God’s work, then who?”
Nieves will continue his chemotherapy treatment daily, and twice a week at the CCMC in Hartford. The treatment is expected to last three years and will have its ups and downs. His immune system will be very delicate and he will be very vulnerable during all this time remaining, but his father says they are trying to remain as positive as possible.
Nieves has demonstrated extreme strength throughout, something his dad has been documenting and is comforted by. “He is actually our strength to be honest with you,” said his father Victor. “A little role reversal, he is so strong and it’s rubbing off on us. We have a lot of faith and we know if we just stick together. We have friends all over the U.S. and in Puerto Rico, and from everywhere and they’re dropping lines and giving phone calls, and showing their support so that’s been overwhelming. The family is a whole and when one of us feels it, the rest of us hurt.”
His parents recently created a GoFundMe account for Nieves, and in their humbling plea for support they write: “Everyone that knows Chris has experienced his thoughtfulness, love, and respect for everyone that he encounters. As is typical of his selflessness, he’s been extremely optimistic and positive through this unsettling journey. As friends and family are learning this news and thinking of all of the wonderful memories that they’ve shared with Chris, many are asking what they can do to help. On top of the expected expenses, my husband and I are unable to work and will be by his side during treatment.”
To support Nieves and his family visit GoFundMe.com and search for Chris Strong or click here. To date they have raised $2,225 of their $5,000 goal. You can also follow Nieves journey in defeating cancer on hid personal Facebook blog by searching for Chris Strong.
In a hopeful note, Nieves reminds us all not to worry, as he is surrounded by love and God and that: “We were made to be courageous and with this many stones in my hand… you’ll watch the Giant fall.”