Flashback Friday: “Not Even Cancer Can Stop Me”

What is more difficult to comprehend than the complexity of the human brain, how it interacts with the rest of the body and mind to create a unique person? The scientific community is only just beginning to grasp how billions of neurons work together to keep our bodies, and personalities, alive and well. Throwing cancer into the mix throws the balance of this complex organ into chaos and can transform someone into an entirely new person.
This month is Brain Cancer Awareness Month, and we want to do our part to bring to light some of the effects of this terrible type of cancer, while bringing hope to those who are in the midst of a battle with this disease. It is entirely possible to heal and thrive after such a battle – we know this because 61 of our awesome recipients are brain cancer survivors! One of them, Dalton Bouchles, allowed us to share some of his story on the blog last year, and believe that his story is so encouraging that we wanted to share it again with you today.
Take a look at his story, and remember that through trials and challenges, even brain cancer, there is always hope for you to battle through it all and victoriously stand tall on the other side, ready to accomplish your dreams.
“My dream has always been to attend college,” wrote 19-year-old Maine resident Dalton Bouchles last year in his Cancer for College scholarship application. “However, once I found out I had cancer, that dream became blurry.”
At age 18, Dalton was diagnosed with craniopharyngioma, a brain tumor which develops near the pituitary gland, at the base of the brain. He underwent surgery to remove the tumor but suffered many physical and cognitive impairments from the procedure.
“At this point in my life, I was unsure as to whether or not I would be able to attend college like I had originally planned,” Dalton continued.
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But Dalton would not be deterred, not even by something as ominous as brain cancer. Following is his story in his own words.
I worked very hard in high school to prepare myself for college. I maintained an A average, participated in many school activities such as Key Club: as a member, president, and Lieutenant Governor for my division. I was a member of Boys’ State, National Honor Society and a Student Representative for the MSAD #52 School Board during my senior year. For sports, I was a member of the golf team and enjoyed two years participating on the soccer team. I am very proud to be a 2012 graduate, ninth in my class at Leavitt Area High School.
In the Fall of 2012, just three weeks before I was due to head out to Worcester Polytechnic Institute for my first year of college, I was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor, a craniopharyngioma. How the diagnosis came to be was through a routine eye exam, which showed swelling on my right optic nerve. An MRI the next day confirmed the eye doctor’s suspicions and revealed the tumor which attached itself to my pituitary gland. The surgeon gave me four days to get my things in order and then I was in the hospital having brain surgery to remove the large tumor from the center of my brain and save my life. Those four days between diagnosis and surgery were filled with shock and fear. I knew from this day forward that my next four academic years as well as my future life plans were about to change.

Surgery did not go as planned. Due to the tumor’s size and location it created surgical complications, resulting in a two month hospital stay. Each day held many challenges for me, which included occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy. While all of my friends went on to college and started the next chapter in their future, I have spent the last two years of my life in rehabilitation and recovery. Because of the type of tumor, its size and where in the brain it was located, the surgery has left me with substantial physical and neurological impairments. Most significant are my vision loss and cognitive challenges. I still have all my marbles, but I have to work harder to process and organize information. I lost over 80% of my vision and now I am visually impaired and partially sighted, which has left me unable to drive, limiting my mobility.

Due to the tumor and its effects, it has made Worcester Polytechnic Institute no longer a viable option. The cognitive impairments now limit my ability to attend school as a full-time student. I am now working on a degree two classes at a time, allowing me to reach my dream of going to college. Although the tumor has slowed my education, it will not stop it. Along the way, I have remained a very positive person and a hard worker.

I have always felt that education was a top priority in life. It opens up many doors and possible careers that would have not otherwise been available. I want to go to college, receive an education and walk through one of those doors myself. Nothing, not even cancer, is going to stop me. I pushed myself hard in therapy from day one in order to get as close as I can to where I was before surgery and get back on the college track. The tumor was a roadblock that I overcame and now I am where I am supposed to be, heading back to college.

Nothing, not even cancer, is going to stop me.

Dalton is currently attending Central Maine Community College and enrolled macroeconomics and critical thinking. We applaud your fighting spirit and determination, Dalton, and wish you the very best of luck in all that you do!

To find out how you can make a difference in the lives of cancer survivors like Dalton, please visitcancerforcollege.org

 


Pro Pic - CircleAbout the author: Mitch Friesen is a childhood cancer survivor, CFC scholarship recipient (2011-2014), and now works for Cancer for College as their Director of Growth & Community. Mitch graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Business Management and minor in Theology. A lifelong learner and lover of adventure, when Mitch is not catching up with all of the awesome CFC recipients, he can be found enjoying the outdoors with his bombshell of a wife (Abbey), watching/playing soccer, and drinking coffee.

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Thriving after Surviving: Young Brain Cancer Survivors

Astrocytoma. Pineoblastoma. Medulloblastoma. Germinoma. Terrifying words, all of which translate into terrifying diagnoses: brain tumors.

Battling cancer is something a young, vibrant kid, working hard to find their place in the world, should not have to deal with. Cancer in kids is unfair and cosmically wrong. When that diagnosis is brain cancer, the road to survival may seem impossible. But not to the 10 young brain cancer survivors who received a 2014 Cancer for College scholarship.

Out of 74 Cancer for College scholarships awarded this year, 10 of those were to young men and women who battled brain cancer. What resilience and strength of character it must take to survive such adversity and to come through with the drive and motivation to jump fully back into life.

Below are faces — healthy and vibrant — of some of those tenacious collegiates.

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Bailey Quishenberry was diagnosed with an astrocytoma brain tumor at age 14. Bailey had a complicated road to recovery, which included two brain surgeries.   One of Bailey’s nurses shares a story which defines Bailey’s compassion and character: “Bailey was despondent to learn that many of the children around her spent much of their lives in the hospital. She asked all of her friends and relatives to donate new stuffed animals to the children’s hospital, and more than 300 people brought comfort toys to be given to the ER and to recovering children in other units.  She was too ill to help personally, but she found a way to make a difference even from her hospital bed.” Bailey is now a freshman at UC Riverside studying environmental science.

Molly Modeste-Martin survived a pylocytic astrocytoma — twice. She was diagnosed when she was just three years old, and again when she was 12. Despite multiple surgeries and chemotherapy, Molly continued her love of sports, including basketball and track, and has bravely shared her story in order to raise funds for cancer research. Molly’s doctor writes, “She has required extensive therapy over the years including multiple surgeries and chemotherapy…despite all of that, Molly has evolved to be a brilliant and charming young woman.” Molly is now a freshman at Santa Clara University majoring in communications and public relations

Megan Richards was diagnosed with a non-germinamatous stem cell brain tumor at nine years old. “The tumor itself wasn’t rare,” Megan tells us, “but the location of it was. The physicians had only seen it once before, and it was in an adult not a child.” But after intensive chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, Megan survived her tumor and is now a freshman at Gardner Webb University working toward her nursing degree. “She is eager to make a difference in her world,” writes one of Megan’s nurses.

Joshua Walker is also a two-time survivor. He was diagnosed with a germinoma brain tumor at five years old and again at 16. “The treatment for this cancer was horrendous,” writes his doctor. “Yet, through all of this Josh remained an example of the best of his generation.” The oldest of five children, Josh, at 17 years old, used his Make-a-Wish to give his family an unforgettable Christmas. “I would be their secret Santa!” he tells us. Now a freshman at Brigham Young University studying engineering, Josh shares, “I am just about to finish my first semester of college! Life is good!”

Samantha Loch survived a medulloblastoma when she was 15, had an intensive treatment and a difficult recovery. “Sammy is truly remarkable in the amazing way she has met all the unexpected challenges in her life,” writes one of Sammy’s doctors. Sammy herself told us recently, “this is the first year since my diagnosis in 2009 that my life has not been dictated by disease, treatment, pain or surgeries. “It has been a wonderful year full of fun, excitement, learning and adventure.” Sammy is a junior at Western Washington University majoring in sociology and psychology.

Cancer for College is so proud and inspired by Bailey, Molly, Megan, Joshua, Sammy, and all of our scholarship recipients.

Wishing everyone a safe, joyous and healthy holiday season.

Cancer for College is a non-profit organization which provides college scholarships to cancer survivors. We are accepting applications for scholarships for the 2015-16 school year through January 31, 2015. Please click here for application details.

Resiliency Personified

RE-SIL-IENCE:

The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness

The ability to become strong, healthy or successful again after something bad happens.

An ability to cope with problems and setbacks.

Resiliency. This is one of the strongest and most defining qualities which shines through in the hundreds of applications we review each year for scholarship consideration at Cancer for College. Story after story, we read sentiments such as, “I want to  use my cancer experience to make a difference for others,” or “I want to give back,” and even, “would I chose cancer again? Definitely, because it changed my life for the better.” These young cancer patients have the strength of character and determination to face their diagnosis with fists drawn, ready for battle — a “game on” attitude.

But the cancer treatment road is long, and full of treacherous potholes and ominous detours. It’s easy to get thrown off-course or knocked down. These kids, even in the face of such adversity, are able to continue living their young lives with purpose and meaning. They do their very best to keep up with school work and friends, even though they may be sidelined from sports and all the other activities which fill a young person’s day. They endure surgeries, hospitalizations, toxic chemotherapy, week in, week out. And they do so with a can-do attitude, remaining positive and hopeful. Many of them become active participants in the cancer community, raising both awareness and funding to the general cause, all the while undergoing treatment and keeping up with their studies. In a word, they are resilient.

Considering resiliency from the Cancer for College perspective, one truly incredible scholarship recipient comes to mind. We are all very attached to him, and we think you will be too.

We first became acquainted with Jonathan Chung in the summer of 2004, when he was referred to our scholarship program by another recipient. Even before meeting him in person, we sensed that Jonathan was not your ordinary 22- year-old college student.

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Jonathan Chung meets one of his favorites

You see, Jonathan was diagnosed with brain cancer when he was 15, and after seven years, was still undergoing treatment. Despite living in Southern California while being cared for by doctors at a Houston cancer clinic, Jonathan was pursuing his studies in business administration at a community college and staying active in volunteer service.

In 2005, Jonathan was accepted to California State University, San Marcos, and we were proud to award him with a $4,000 perpetual scholarship. He accepted his scholarship in person at our annual benefit. One instantly sees Jonathan as a gentle, kind, intelligent and grateful soul, as are his parents. We were delighted to provide some financial assistance for this young man.

In a patient testimonial for his treatment clinic, Jonathan shares his story:

My name is Jonathan Chung, and my battle with brain cancer began in 1997.  In late June 1997, after I had completed my sophomore year of high school, I awoke one morning feeling very dizzy and suffering a severe headache.  On the third day after my symptoms had not abated, my mother took me to the doctor.

Following a CAT scan and MRI, I underwent surgery for Hydrocephalus.  A VP shunt was placed in my brain to relieve pressure.  I underwent further surgery, however, the neurosurgeon was unable to remove a tumor mass in my brain.  I was diagnosed with Pylocytic Astrocytoma.  At that time, the major tumor measured 6 centimeters across.

My prognosis was grim.  The neurosurgeon gave me two years at the best.  The oncologist recommended a chemotherapy regimen of two toxic drugs, but she was unable to say if they would work to reduce the tumor.  Further MRIs showed that the cancer had ceded in other parts of my brain and spine.  The oncologist further recommended radiation in conjunction with chemotherapy.  My parents were told of the toxic side effects of both treatments.

A neighbor had read of the Burzynski clinic in Dr. Julian Whitaker’s newsletter.  My father did extensive research on this through the internet.

My father and I flew to Houston in November 1997.  I began treatment on Antineoplastons almost immediately.  It was a rough start for me, however, here I am 5 years later, despite the odds initially given by the neurosurgeon.  My MRI now shows the largest tumor to be less than 1 centimeter across.  My shrinkage since the beginning of the treatment has been nearly 90 %.  I look forward to more shrinkage.

The Antineoplaston therapy, the prayers of family and friends, my faith in God, have all contributed to giving me a new lease on life.  For this, I am very grateful.

A couple of years passed. Jonathan’s prognosis diminished. It was uncertain whether or not he would return to school, and his Cancer for College scholarship was placed on hold. Ultimately, we received an unforgettable and haunting call. It was Jonathan’s mom. Jonathan was being placed into home hospice care, and in her tender and quiet voice, she asked if perhaps Jonathan’s scholarship money could be used for someone else? We were heartbroken for them.

Jonathan remained in our thoughts, but, not wanting to bother the family in what we knew must be a difficult time, we assumed his long struggle with brain cancer had ended. Until one day, we received an email, seemingly a voice from the beyond. It was Jonathan. He wanted to attend our annual benefit that year. Not only was he a cancer patient and a scholarship recipient, but turns out also a big fan of Cancer for College’s dear friend and event host, Will Ferrell. Even though he wouldn’t be returning to school, could he still come to the event, he asked.

Having Jonathan at our event that year was a tremendous honor. He was frail, and in a wheelchair. But he still had that unique spirit that drew us to him years ago. He was able to meet “Mr. Ferrell” (as Jonathan, with his impeccable manners, addressed him) And Mr. Ferrell, with his signature genuine heart, knelt down next to Jonathan and together they had a fantastic conversation, despite the crush of 600 people swirling around them, all of them vying for a moment with celebrity.

We last saw Jonathan this past May, at our golf tournament celebrating Cancer for College’s 20 year anniversary, but we are still in contact. Today is Jonathan’s 32nd birthday. Happy, happy birthday to you, Jonathan Chung. We adore this young man for so many reasons: for his strength of character, for his positive attitude, for his love of life and his gratitude. And especially for his resiliency.