I guess when life catches you by surprise it is hard to realize what exactly is fully going on around you. 6 months ago life caught me by surprise.
The days were normal. I spent my nights staying up late working on chemistry homework and woke up early to start my day which was composed of college classes, a shift at the hospital, and another round of homework. I was stressed. I couldn’t quite understand how I was supposed to manage studying pre-med, working part-time, while also incorporating the social life any normal college student was known to have.
Suddenly everything changed.
It was the very beginning of March when my normal shift at The James Cancer Hospital turned into something much different. I was suspicious of something being wrong for awhile. I just did not feel right. After years of unexplained symptoms, I worked up enough strength to approach a head and neck oncologist who I worked closely with each day. I told him about the daily lightheaded spells and the subtle but concerning lump in the right side of my neck. Halfway through my shift he pulled me aside to inform me of the news that would change my life forever. He told me I had a baseball sized tumor sitting in my head and neck, right at the base of my skull. It was then that I realized the chemistry homework stress did not seem like much.
Instantly I knew I was about to endure something many young girls don’t have to worry about. I had to fight. About a month later- after dozens of preoperative scans, test, and appointments- the tumor was ready to be removed. For 20 hours my family sat in the waiting area while my body fought. The tumor was mean. My 4 surgeons, 2 anesthesiologist, and numerous nurses knew they had their work cut out for them. Early in my surgery, my tumor was winning the battle. My carotid artery was completely engulfed by the tumor. After they had made incision and positioned me in the necessary way to remove the monster, my vitals dropped. The tumor was stealing the blood supply to my brain. Worried, the surgeons suddenly believed that maybe the removal of the tumor was not going to happen. They were unsure as to if I would survive through the surgery. After much thought, prayers, and consideration, they came up with a new game plan and the surgery continued. Their plan worked. I woke up in an Intensive Care Unit bed 20 hours later with only 5% of the tumor left. They performed a miracle. I was a miracle.
Since the day my normal work shift took a turn for the worst, I have been fighting. There is no way to prepare for something like this. I was not prepared and I quickly learned there was nothing I could do but to program myself to worry about nothing but the battle I was given to fight. And that is what I did. That is what everyone around me did. We fought.
While there were many people who entered the scary journey with me, there was one who gave me the strength to make it through each day. I sit back everyday and thank God for placing this person in my life during such a tough time. We fought together. We fought a battle no 19 year old ever plans to fight. While I dropped my life to fight the battle, he not only fought my battle but he fought his own. All the 271 mile trips he incorporated between school exams and football practice are what kept me going.
Yesterday I sat in the stands at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with my family. 6 months ago I was told this was not going to be possible. Play after play I watched you do what you do best. I watched you fight. I cheered for you just as you cheered for me. With each play I felt butterflies of nervousness just as you felt for 20 hours on April 16th. Through all the change encountered over the past 8 months, no matter what, I will forever remain grateful. I am so proud of you.