Teen brain cancer survivor: Be a warrior, not a victim

In high school, I didn’t have much of a social life. I had trouble with insomnia, anxiety, paranoia, depression and apathy. As time went on, it became increasingly disruptive to my life. Then, when I was 16, I learned that my mental torment wasn’t just teenage anguish — it was a brain tumor. During a physical, a nurse noticed that my pupils didn’t react to her light, so I was taken to a neurologist for an MRI. The MRI scan revealed a lemon-sized tumor growing on my pineal gland, a small gland in the brain responsible for producing the hormone melatonin. It was surprising because I hadn’t experienced more common physical brain tumor symptoms like headaches or seizures. Even though I was in complete shock after hearing I had brain cancer, I felt hope for being cured and finally finding an answer to my problems. My brain tumor treatment and side effects After a biopsy at our local hospital, I was diagnosed with pineal region germinoma. My family chose to bring me to MD Anderson because of the success stories they’d heard and the hospital’s superb reputation for cancer care. I started treatment with four rounds of chemotherapy in early 2008, followed by 30 rounds of proton therapy radiation to the brain. The chemotherapy caused mild neuropathy in my feet; they tingled when I woke up and touched the floor. The proton therapy made some of my social issues worse. I had trouble thinking of what to talk about, which caused even more frustration and anxiety. I finished treatment and was declared cancer-free by the end of 2008. But...