Mike Abrams, diagnosed at 31

One day you’re walking around feeling totally healthy, going to work, out with friends and loving life. The next day you are given devastating news: You have cancer! How did this happen?

I love the band Phish. If they are playing within a 5 or 6 state radius of me, you can count on me being there. I was at a Phish show hanging out on the lawn with a bunch of friends. One of my closest friends was messing around with me and punched me in the side. I got a cramp. Not your typical cramp though, a cramp that literally brought me to my knees and would not go away.

The next day I called my doctor and asked for a prescription muscle relaxant because we had a few more concerts coming up and I didn’t want to miss them all because of some silly cramp. He said, “Sure, under one condition, you must come see me. It’s been years since I last saw you and even longer since we got a blood sample.” I agreed. Little did I know that punch in the side and the subsequent blood test would save my life.

“How did I, a previously healthy 31-year-old, get cancer? I still have no answer to that but I have learned a few other perhaps more pertinent lessons.”

When we got back, I went back to work and put off going to the doctor. I had the mindset that I am young, so what could really be wrong with me? It’s a probably just a dehydration cramp or something simple. Obviously cancer was the last thing on my mind. But people kept bothering me to go to the doctor, so finally I bit the bullet.

It was a Wednesday, a routine physical with blood work—in and out within an hour and back to work. A few hours later I got a call. There was something “strange” in my blood work and they wanted me to see a specialist.

Apparently I had way too much of one type of blood cell and not nearly enough of another. He explained that there was a 50% chance this was due to leukemia, or the other 50% could be numerous other things like nutrient deficiencies. He wanted to do a bone marrow biopsy (BMB) right away.

The next afternoon at about 4 pm I got a call from the hematologist with the news no one ever wants to hear: YOU HAVE CANCER.

I’m still asking myself how it happened. How did I, a previously healthy 31-year-old, get cancer? I still have no answer to that but I have learned a few other perhaps more pertinent lessons.

  1. Listen to your body, it’s a machine that when working properly is unnoticeable. Pain, cramping, bruising, etc are warning signs. Listen to them.
  2. When things go wrong, the people in your life who truly matter will stand up to the challenge and fill in the gaps where you need them, often without even asking.
  3. Patience, without it you cannot survive an experience like this. When you are in a situation like mine, you relinquish all control to the doctors and nurses caring for you. They run on their schedule, not yours. So be patient and have faith that they want you to be healthy and are working towards it.


  • painful leg cramps