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 it took longer for my neuropathy and mental issues to
improve. I continued to feel socially handicapped. I was suicidal for
years, unable to cope with the thought of losing my teenage years.

Making up for lost time

In 2016, I was accepted to Texas State University, and I finally
started coming back to life. Now, I talk to everyone in my classes. I
have a large group of friends, and I’m very social. I guess you could
say I’m making up for lost time!

My goal is to become a writer, speaker and advocate for teenage
cancer survivors. Even after I finished treatment and my brain tumor
was physically gone, it took a long time to heal and recover mentally
and emotionally. I continue to check in with my neuro-oncologist, John Slopis, M.D., every six months to monitor
my health. 

During treatment, I listened to a lot of music — everything from
John Mayer to heavy metal. I learned to play guitar a few years before
my diagnosis, but brain cancer took away my interest in playing for a
long time. I only began playing again as I started to feel better
recently. It really helped me to start entertaining myself in a
creative, positive way.

Advice for teenage cancer survivors

As I’ve learned, it’s important not to look at yourself as a victim.
I used to see being a cancer survivor as a cold, hard reality. But I
want to encourage other teen cancer survivors to not stumble into a
negative mindset like I did. Stay confident. Stay positive. Know that
it will be OK. You are a warrior!


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