How a brain tumor taught me to embrace myself

My whole life changed in June 2017. I had just finished my sophomore
year at Texas Tech University. My life seemed pretty simple. I went to
class, worked out, hung out with friends, and focused on my body and
on fitness.

Then, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Staying in shape, despite difficult brain tumor symptoms

For a few years before my brain tumor diagnosis, I’d had some
strange symptoms. I was always tired. Things just seemed
to be so much harder than they used to be. During my freshman year of
college, I had terrible headaches and a fever for over a month. I was
diagnosed with mono, so I never got an MRI. I’d always enjoyed
dancing, but I left my dance team at Texas Tech after the season ended
because I knew I couldn’t commit to the extensive schedule. I just
didn’t feel good enough.

My body and appearance were always extremely important to me. So, in
2016, I switched from competitive dancing to lifting weights, which
didn’t require as much memory or focus. Then, I started getting
headaches almost every day. By spring 2017, I could barely get through
the day. I stopped hanging out with friends because I didn’t have the
energy. I would go to class, nap, workout and go straight to bed. My
right arm started to go numb fairly often. I began to have visions
that looked like blurry rainbows and often felt like I was floating.
After finals ended I had so much pressure in my head that I couldn’t
move my neck.

Coming to MD Anderson for brain
tumor treatment

My symptoms continued after I came home for the summer, and my mom
knew something wasn’t right. In May 2017, we went to a local emergency
room, where I was finally diagnosed with a 7-cm brain tumor. The
doctors wanted to transfer me to another hospital, but my mom knew
that I should go to MD Anderson for
the best brain tumor treatment.

A few days later, I had a 10-hour brain surgery under the care of neurosurgeon Fredrick Lang, M.D., who’d met us at the
hospital when I was transferred to MD
Anderson
at 2 a.m. a few days earlier. I had 34 seizures during
surgery, so some of my tumor was still left in my brain. After
surgery, my brain tumor was diagnosed as a grade II diffuse
astrocytoma. This fall, I finished six weeks of proton therapy with radiation oncologist Erik
Sulman, M.D., Ph.D.
, and egg harvesting to preserve fertility with Terri Woodard, M.D.. Now, I’m undergoing a year
of oral chemotherapy (Temodar) with neuro-oncologist John de Groot, M.D.

A new perspective on body image

After my brain tumor diagnosis, I realized I didn’t know
how long I had here on Earth. I regretted being so focused on my
looks. Over the last few years, I was always tired, and I spent the
only energy I had in the gym. Working out is good for you, but I took
it to a level where it ruled over my life. While I’m proud of my
fitness accomplishments, my life was unbalanced.

Because of surgery and radiation, I lost half of my hair. I have my
normal hair on the right and none on the left. Being half bald is
pretty cool. It’s part of who I am in this season of my life, and it
shows how strong I’ve become through these past months.

Going through this emotional summer made me embrace who I am. I
still exercise to keep in shape and for general health, but I’m not
obsessing over it anymore. I’ve had time to dive deeper into my
relationship with God, and I have faith in a greater outcome in the
end. Looks don’t matter, but family, relationships and life
experiences do. I’m not thankful for cancer, but I am so thankful for
what it is teaching me.


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Anderson
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