Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Celebrating life

By Rose Arce

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Michigan (CNN) -- From Miles Levin's big smile, you'd think he was just another happy teenager. He nods supportively when his pals brag about their college acceptances and throws a gentle arm around a girlfriend who has ringlets of long, brown hair. But at night, this 18-year-old blogs from a world as sobering as his chalk-white skin and shiny bald head.

"All that stressing about which Ivy League they'd be going to while I'm stressing about whether those suspicious scans meant cancer and The End or not," he writes. "That everyone would be moving on to the next stage of life ... the whole College Experience ... onwards to young rising professionals and newly weds and fathers and mothers and grandfathers and grandmothers and retirees ... but my life ends here; this is my stop, a couple months short of graduating high school."

His bloggings, posted on his hospital Web site at register then type levin story have reached well beyond the world of high school. He e-mailed with a woman in the Philippines, then another in Brazil, with teens dying in the Midwest and mothers losing children in the Northeast. His thoughts were aired on the radio, and on the cover of the Detroit News. He has become a magnet for people searching for ways to relish the simplicity of a single good day.

Chemotherapy has made him gaunt, even sallow, though he smiles from ear to ear and his baldness has given him a Dalai Lama look. Even the Dalai Lama himself might be brought down by something as mundane as cancer or a fire from a worn-out extension cord, Levin muses on his blog. And in the randomness of life, firefighters would race in to rescue him, "not just because he's the Dalai Lama, they would do the same for you." (Read more from Miles on living with cancer on the 360 Blog)

If we're all the same, why can't a kid from suburban Detroit say a few deep things on his way out? So Levin, all striped pajamas and socks with treads, settled down in a recliner one day and declared that perhaps he was put on Earth "to get Stage 4 alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma. Why? So that I could show the world how to have stage 4 alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma. Or rather how to handle what is close to the worst thing that could possibly happen to me, with as much strength and grace as I could manage."

He got his diagnosis in 2005 after seeing a doctor for belly pain. It ruined his plans for a movie date, he says. Since then he's been in and out of Beaumont Hospital in Michigan. Numerous doctors and tests haven't provided anything other than a terminal diagnosis.

Then cancer stole him away from school. In late 2006, he ended up at Ronald McDonald House near New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Hospital, forced to take the ACT while fighting nausea, any faint hopes of making the Cranbrook football team pretty much dashed. The blog started as his way of keeping touch with the teen world while fighting cancer in chemo world.

Kids he didn't even know started to write back. He felt he had a connection to home, so why not provide a connection to his world, to the alphabet soup of medications, the weird medical scene, the strange sight of kids fighting illness in a place so alien to children.

His mom blogged, then his dad. Time passed, and his cat got cancer too -- irony not lost on Levin. He lost a lot of weight while the chemo attacked the cancer cells running amok in his muscle tissues, bones and tendons. His voice became light and breathy from the cancer, but he still could blog. He wrote an essay that earned him an admission to Kalamazoo College.

At some point, his words pushed past the pen-pal stage. He began to write about the deeper questions he faced and the meaning of life. "He's ageless. He has no malice. He doesn't seem to have the kind of human conflicts internally," says his mother, Nancy, of the son she fears she may lose before his scheduled June graduation. As a child, he was like a "space alien," exhibiting early signs of attention deficit disorder, focusing on simple pleasures and showing an early talent for writing. She wonders aloud how a kid like that could die so soon.

In late April, Levin came home from Sloan-Kettering to Bloomfield Hills. The kids at the Cranbrook School did a "Miles for Miles" walkathon fundraiser and wore T-shirts with his slogan: "Keep Fighting. Stop Struggling." Oddly, he kept comforting them.

And he kept blogging: "So often we use lazy words which fall to the ground and never get up, but those can change the world, or at least a person.

"I've been at my computer too long now. It's a beautiful day outside and I don't have time to miss it."

So beautifully sad. Not ashamed to say it made me cry.

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Comments: many things to cry about...Irnically, I was having a conversation with a pal about the legacies that we leave, and it is evident the Miles will leave a great one. He has made an impact on the world.
You shouldn't be ashamed. It's a very touching story. Brave kid. Most would've sunk into depression by now.
After feeling sorry for myself all day, this was the story I needed to read. Thank you Albeni for bringing me back to earth.
CP...It surely put things into perspective for me as well.
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