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.
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.


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.

Survivor Spotlight: Danielle Gillespie

Danielle Gillespie is the type of young woman who catches your eye immediately. Maybe it’s her long, thick dark brown hair. Or her bright eyes and warm smile. Certainly it’s her radiant and friendly disposition. Nothing at all about Danielle, upon first meeting her, reveals another truth: that at just 26-years-old, she is brain cancer survivor.

Five years ago, in May 2009, Danielle, already a college graduate, was just three days into her nursing program. While driving from class — thankfully with other students she had met in her program — this healthy young woman with no prior warning signs, suffered a seizure.

“I started feeling weird,” Danielle explains. “I pulled over to the side of the road, a few houses before my own, took a drink of water, and that’s all I remember. I woke up to EMS taking me out of the car.”

An MRI revealed a golf-ball sized tumor on the right front side of her brain. Further tests identified the mass as a grade 4 glioblastoma multiforme, a highly aggressive malignancy more typically found in men over 60. Fortunately for Danielle, close to home was the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, where she became patient of their Hermelin Brain Tumor Center under the care of neuro-oncologist Dr. Tom Mikkelsen. “He is absolutely wonderful,” shares Danielle.

Her treatment began immediately, starting with a total resection craniotomy to remove the tumor at the end of May. Danielle spent just three nights in the hospital after her brain surgery, and went home to finish her four week recovery with nothing stronger than Tylenol 3 for her pain — a testament to her strength and grit. Once recovered, she began a six-week treatment of radiation and oral chemotherapy. The timing was just right.

“I finished chemo and radiation on a Monday,” recalls Danielle, “and I got married that Friday. I did this funky comb-over with my hair!” she remembers with a smile. Surgery and radiation were causing  her to lose her hair.

Danielle 1

Courtesy of Danielle Gillespie

Following her wedding and a four-week break from treatment, Danielle’s chemotherapy continued for a year. She took that year off school, and returned to her nursing program in May 2010, just one year after diagnosis, Cancer for College scholarship in hand.  By May of 2011, Danielle was a college graduate, a wife and mom, a registered nurse, and a brain cancer survivor.

Danielle 2

Courtesy of Danielle Gillespie

Danielle is approaching her five-year mark — an important milestone for survivors. We are so proud of her strength of character and her positive and generous spirit, and extremely honored to be a part of her journey.