While reading Terri’s story, the voice you hear is her own since she wrote it while she was a graduating high school student. Terri aspired to graduate from college and applied for numerous scholarships. By completing scholarship applications, she wrote her story. Her words tell of her ability to keep her faith and achieve through her battle with cancer. She never complained and she never gave up. She always had FAITH!
I remember it was Father’s Day and we were going to dinner at Red Lobster. I had the worst headache of my life! My head was pounding and my eyes were blurry but I didn’t want to disappoint my Papa and my uncle, so I went. I tried to block out the pain. Shortly into dinner I started to vomit. My mom took me home and after a cool bath, I had a seizure. From that point on, my life has been forever changed. Within a matter of hours I was at the hospital, receiving a CAT scan, and into surgery. How was I to know that a bad headache, blurred vision, and vomiting would equal cancer? How was I to know that my life would be forever changed?
The results of the CAT scan showed that I had a Pineal Blastoma tumor the size of a golf ball. According to the medical books, these tumors arise in the region of the pineal gland, which controls the central nervous system. This gland is a small structure deep within the brain. These tumors represent about 1% of all brain tumors, but account for 3% to 8% of the intracranial tumors that occur in children. This is the most aggressive brain tumor… and to date no cure. Radiation, or all of the above. Whatever protocol was chosen, the impact would have life altering effects for me. My biggest concerns prior to this date had been whether to play with my Barbie’s or Bratz dolls, watch Disney channel or B2K videos, roller skate or ride my bike. Cancer took the innocence of my childhood and we now had to decide how to save my life.
The rest is a blur. The doctors saw that I had too much fluid in my brain and immediately drained the fluid. The doctors decided to do a second operation on June 23 to extract as much of the tumor as possible without damaging my brain. For seven to eight hours the doctors tried, but they couldn’t get the entire tumor out. From July 30 to September 12, received chemotherapy and 35 rounds of radiation simultaneously. For the next year my mother and I became residents of the hospital with weekend visits to our home based on my bodies’ good behavior. By August 12 I had lost all of my hair. The treatments took over my life. Until the doctors found the right combination of medicines, I suffered uncontrollable vomiting. The radiation scorched my head and my back like a piece of burnt toast. I could not eat or swallow. There were plenty of times when my mom laid in bed with me all day and it took every ounce of will power to drink a 4 oz protein shake; a sip here and a sip there. Those were the good days, the rest were worse. I never really felt like a cancer patient until I saw the pictures.
My life changed as a cancer patient. I couldn’t go to school anymore and I was home schooled. I felt lonely and I wanted to be around kids my own age. The neighborhood kids would come to look at me through my bedroom window. That was as close as I could get to kids and potential germs. If I was lucky and felt well, I was able to visit my school and my friends. At ten years old, school was more than a learning institution. School was where I could be myself, be a child, socialize, play, ignore my illness, be a regular kid. School was my lifeline to reality but I was far from returning permanently since I was still getting sick from the treatments. Cancer impacted my personal appearance as well. Since I lost my hair sometimes I would wear a wig. The wigs allowed me a chance to pretend to be someone else for the day, but they were not me. I preferred to wear hats as they became an extension of my personality. I had a winter box and a summer box of hats. My family supported me by telling me that my hair would grow back. Looking back, I never really felt like I lost all of my hair. I never really felt like a cancer patient until I saw the pictures.
It took me a whole year to get better. At ten years old, it felt like an eternity. The doctors told me that if the cancer doesn’t come back within five years then I would’ve beaten the five-year mark, which means I would’ve beaten cancer. I looked forward to living life cancer-free. I wanted to be a kid without a worry in the world. The first thing I did was attend school three days a week. I loved the freedom…freedom to learn, freedom to be around friends, freedom to help others. I didn’t want to plan my life around hospital visits, physical therapy, or checkups. I volunteered at the Senior Center for two years. I helped the elderly grocery shop and I helped served meals. I also helped with the children’s program at church. I also created a cancer awareness club at my high school called CAST (Cancer Awareness Support Team) and I am the clubs’ President. My desire to help others motivated me to join Peer Counseling at school. I was a peer counselor for three years and participated in volunteering and helping young teens in their daily struggles. Cancer impacted me by allowing me to see the trivial and juvenile nature of my peers, but it also taught me to be compassionate and accept that their problems matter.
My faith is strong and I believe in God’s plan for my life. On October 30, 2009, as I was attending the Homecoming Dance, my vision became blurry and my walk became crippled. As fate would have it, as I neared the end of my fifth year in remission, my cancer returned; this time in my spine and my brain. The journey to recovery has begun again. Failure is not my choice…survival is the ONLY option.
I could only receive 14 radiation treatments since I have neared the maximum lifetime allowable dosage; therefore the new protocol involved spinal tabs to place chemo directly into my spine. I received these spinal tabs for a whole year. Since I am older now I can swallow chemo pills. My reoccurring regiment involves two weeks of treatment followed by two weeks of rest. I am dealing with this the best I can. I am trying to be upbeat about the whole situation. I love going to school. I always loved school and I always try my best in everything I do. I am also helping others see God. God may put me in the storms, but he will never let me go through it alone. God is testing my strength but I hope my story will touch many people. Knowing this makes me smile and I have a resilient spirit. My doctors are amazed at how well I am doing with the treatments and how strong I am. They call me the miracle child. These lessons have planted an interest in Family Therapy and Psychology as my future career choice. I aspire to attend the University of La Verne; I have already been accepted. Going through this process has made me more mature and has forced me to grow up faster. Life is so precious, and one should ever take it for granted because tomorrow may never come. If I could offer simple advice to the world I would say, “Live life to the fullest, be happy, and let each day take its course. Life’s magical.” I think my parents meant to name me Faith; that sums up my conviction to beat cancer.
The final paragraph…Terri DID attend the University of LaVerne. She went to summer orientation and enrolled as a full-time student taking courses in English, Math, Health, and Psychology. She attended classes each week despite her battle with cancer, despite being confined to a wheelchair, and despite having been told that her treatment options had run out. On October 27, 2011, Terri woke up weak but still went to school. She planned to visit the hospital for a weekend hydration treatment but return to classes the next week. Her doctors were astounded that she had attended classes that very same morning. Terri fought with everything she had, yet she did not return to her classes nor her home. After visits from numerous friends and family, Terri peacefully ended her battle on November 24, 2011. It seems fitting that Terri chose Thanksgiving Day as a reminder to always be thankful and have faith in God.