Dominic Watkins has taught those around him life lessons.
He was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer, three times since 2015, and on Nov. 21, 2017 — his 18th birthday — his left leg was amputated to eliminate the chance of the cancer spreading to other organs.
“I couldn’t pronounce it let alone think I had it,” he said of being told he had osteosarcoma. “That’s the cards I was dealt. There was no anger.”
If anyone should be bitter at the world, it’s Dominic Cornell Watkins. Cancer cut short his once promising athletic career where he starred in track, basketball and football, and he faces a life with a prosthesis.
Instead, Watkins, a senior at Monroe High School, looks at his amputation for what he gained, not what he lost.
“You are never promised tomorrow,” he said. “I try to live my life to the fullest.”
That mentality is contagious. That was obvious recently when I interviewed Watkins on the Monroe High School auditorium stage as part of his Senior Project, a requirement to graduate next month. Because of his lengthy hospital stays throughout high school, Watkins has had a mixed education: part in the classroom and part at home. Classmates, teachers and school officials embraced him during his recent visit to the high school.
It was great having Watkins back, even for one day, they said.
“I feel like a star, a celebrity,” he said with a huge smile. “They don’t look at me as the sick kid. Just Dominic.”
His longtime girlfriend, Adriana Browning, a senior at Middletown High School, sat in the auditorium and listened to Watkins’ senior project interview. These two grew up together in Hamilton where they frequently played “tag” on the elementary school playground. Watkins, his mother and brother and sister, moved to Monroe in the sixth grade; Browning to Middletown in the seventh grade.
Browning has walked along side him throughout his medical journey. She also has watched and learned. Smart girl, this Adriana Browning.
“To be grateful every day for what you have,” she said. “To make the most of everything. You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”
Then she was asked about her boyfriend’s trio of cancer battles. He was diagnosed for the first time in 2015 when he was 15. Since then, cancer has been a constant companion.
“You think you have a lifetime to live when it can be taken away,” she said.
His third cancer diagnosis was delivered at what should have been one of the highlights of Browning’s high school career: Senior Night for cheerleaders. The dye in Watkins’ body showed the cancer had returned.
“It was hard to believe,” said Browning, who still cheered that night. “I was a mess the whole time.”
Watkins said he has cried just once: As he was being wheeled into surgery at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
“Tough,” he said. “It was scary. When they say, ‘It’s time to do it.’ That’s when it kicks in.”
His body is scanned every three months. Eventually, the scans will come less frequently, every six, then nine months. One day, he hopes, to be declared cancer free.
That would mean “no more worrying, no more medication,” he said.
Since his amputation, Watkins has been fitted with a prosthesis, but it hasn’t stopped him from living. He broke a strap on his prosthesis while dancing and now uses crutches until his prosthesis is repaired. He has earned a scholarship from Children’s Hospital to attend Xavier University, where his major is undecided. This summer, he will serve as a mentor at an amputation camp in Maine.
After his interview, when Watkins was part inspiration, part comical, he grabbed his crutches and made the walk up the auditorium’s incline. Browning never offered and Watkins never asked for any assistance. He doesn’t want to be defined by his disability.
“He’s somebody that pushes every day,” Browning said. “Never sad. Always happy. A living miracle.”
Then, suddenly, Browning spoke with the wisdom of a person much older than 18. Being the girl who dates a guy with one leg changes a person.
“Everything happens for a reason,” she said. “I think Dominic is an angel to show everybody you can get through whatever. God would never put anything in your hands you couldn’t handle.”