Miami University student E.J. Coulas has been in remission for 12 years after battling an aggressive type of leukemia. The disease struck before he was old enough to understand it. He was in treatment for more than 3 years, yet he says his memories are mostly positive.
“When I was a kid, I didn’t think about the cancer that much,” E.J. says. “I really don’t think about it negatively.”
But as time went on it was never too far from his thoughts. He grappled with learning difficulties through school, even as a gifted student.
Diagnosed at age 4, E.J. underwent radiation of the brain, which had lasting effects that he describes as slowing down his brain, making it hard to absorb information quickly.
“I had to spend a lot more time on school work than most people did,” E.J. said from his home in North Canton.
But he nonetheless excelled academically, taking Advanced Placement courses at Hoover High School, and now entering his senior year at Miami as a biochemistry major. He plans to go to pharmacy school, and hopes to be a pharmacist at a children’s hospital or work in cancer research.
He and his mother, Teresa, are grateful for the medical care E.J. received at Akron Children’s Hospital, and for support from Neurobehavioral Health to pursue a challenging academic program, despite his learning impairment.
He recently shared his story in a digital book published by the National Children’s Cancer Society, entitled, “What Survivorship Means to Me.”
“I learned very early in life not to sweat the small stuff,” he wrote. “I have developed a sense of gratitude and appreciation for every moment of my life because I know there are many kids who have not been as fortunate as I have been.”
E.J. had volunteered at Akron Children’s over 3 summers during high school. That first summer, he played with kids who were in the hospital with cancer.
Teresa, a math teacher at Canton McKinley High School, said E.J.’s positive attitude and work ethic has made a huge difference for him. He missed a lot of school from kindergarten through second grade. He missed out on many milestones. He had stopped growing, which made it hard to keep up with peers in soccer, a sport he loved. He dealt with the death of his father from cancer 6 years ago.
“He’s gone through some pretty hard things,” Teresa said. “I look at E.J. every day and I know we’re fortunate. I couldn’t be prouder of his attitude.”
E.J. said he never takes for granted his recovery from leukemia. His outlook comes through when he talks about making the high school soccer team. He didn’t start, but that didn’t matter.
“I was just grateful to be on the team,” he said. “Because I wasn’t guaranteed anything.”
If you’re looking for information about pediatric cancer care, Akron Children’s Showers Family Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders can help. Call 330-543-8580.
Akron Children’s remains committed to safety protocols that support and protect our patients, families and staff. Learn more about Akron Children’s COVID-19 response and resources available for families.