The Nicki Leach Foundation
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Mat's Story

Being diagnosed with HIV at the age of 16, my entire life was shaken to the ground. I fell like a house of cards and nothing made sense anymore. I couldn't focus in school, my home wasn't a home at all but a hellish void in which I had no choice but to reside in until I could find some way out. To frost the cake, all of this was happening just after my lover and best friend committed suicide by hanging himself in our bathroom. I have never been the same.

It sounds like fiction as I write, but my memory holds true. I never dreamt I would encounter any struggle comparable to what I went through during that time.

By 2012 life was finally turning around for me. I was overcoming the negative and sometimes even suicidal thoughts that had plagued me before. I had found a job I was very fond of and a new love. I was in a stable and safe situation for the first time in so long.

My mother was suddenly admitted to the hospital in early 2012, it was stage 4 colon cancer, she almost died during surgery. That alone was enough for me to break down. About 1 month later, in July I felt a pain in my groin area. After performing a check of my own testes, I felt a definite hard mass, a painful lump. Certainly it was not cancer, it would be too coincidental. I tried not to worry. I made light of it but inside I knew something more serious might be wrong.
Unfortunately I was correct in my suspicions. It was deemed cancer, but even after being diagnosed, it was very slow and difficult to get treatment at all because I had, and still do not have insurance. I had to have a radical orchiectomy to remove my right testicle. The doctor informed me of this procedure very passively and it was done within a matter of days. Again my life felt as thought it were falling to pieces. I'm so thankful that my best friend came with me through surgery because I was more afraid than anyone knew.

After the procedure, I thought the worst was over. I would have to live with one testicle and that was a small price to pay to stay alive. But it was not to be. I was referred to an Oncologist. The cancer was aggressive and had spread into the bloodstream. 3 rounds of chemotherapy were ordered intravenously. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I was in a state of shock, every cell in my body felt like it was weeping in fear and I felt alone. I had no choice but to do it.

The chemotherapy changed everything, it wreaked havoc on my body, my energy, my social life. I felt like a tattered old ragdoll. I couldn't work, I was almost always bed bound. The fevers, chills, and debilitating side effects annihilated me. I did not get a port and so my veins suffered severe scarring and infiltration. I applied for Medicaid and fought so hard for government assistance of any kind only to be denied again and again. I was a complete zombie and I felt like everyone around me could tell. I cried so much for those 9 weeks when nobody was around. "Only 23 and what have I become?" I thought. Chemotherapy is no joke, had I not the friends and family to help me through I would not have made it.

I still worry about it coming back, especially with HIV increasing the risk. I need constant CAT scans to confirm that it is in remission. But for now, I am lucky to be alive and I have a new perspective on life. A new appreciation for how suddenly I, or anyone could fall victim to illnesses like cancer. Everyday must be cherished.
If I were granted a gift from Nicki, It would give me a chance to finally get my life going. I am 23 years old and I have never driven because I have never had a job that paid enough to afford it. I would use the gift towards a car to get to and from college, and or college expenses themselves. It's my very simple dream to go to college and get a degree in the art field. I have gone too long neglecting my education. I want to be allowed to develop into the person I was meant to be before illness struck. I want to live and I want to be happy with my accomplishments. I realize a lot of other people are in need, still I would be eternally grateful to have the chance to turn my life back around and just live.