"What do you want to be when you grow up?" As I grazed through elementary school, the answer was never an Olympic gymnast or an astronaut. I never wanted to be the president or a princess. I wanted to save lives.
But little did I know that years later, doctors would save my life after I received a diagnosis of medulloblastoma, a common type of brain tumor in children, just a few days before my 16th birthday.
Today, four months after my medulloblastoma diagnosis, I do not see my disease as something terrible. I don't accept pity, nor do I feel sorry for myself. I see this as a learning opportunity and a story to tell to my peers when I'm allowed to go back to school.
My medulloblastoma symptoms, diagnosis and treatment
I had been having bad headaches in the back of my head. Occasionally, I would even black out and collapse. We knew something was wrong.
On Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, I received my medulloblastoma diagnosis. I underwent surgery, but the doctors in El Paso could only remove 20 percent of the tumor. That's when my family traveled to MD Anderson. At MD Anderson, Nicholas B. Levine, M.D., assistant professor in Neurosurgery, removed 100% of the tumor. With the surgery complete, we went back home.
Less than a month later, my mom and I returned to MD Anderson for my 30 proton therapy
treatments (13 to the brain and spine, and 17 to the tumor site) and weekly chemotherapy, as well as appointments with Anita Mahajan, M.D., director of the Proton Therapy Center
, and Michael Rytting, M.D.
, associate professor in Pediatric Patient Care.
If everything goes according to plan, I'll complete my medulloblastoma treatment and go home on Friday, Nov. 22 -- just in time for Thanksgiving.
I'm more than ecstatic to be going home. I cannot wait to play school with my little sister, argue with my newly teenaged brother, visit my old basketball teammates at practice and just spend time with my family.
Learning about oncology firsthand
Thanksgiving used to be just another holiday where I had to eat food I didn't like, deal with my little brother and see family from out of town.
This year, Thanksgiving has a whole new meaning. It's a time to thank my caregivers and health team. I'm grateful my they not only cared for me, but also gave me opportunities to learn more about my diagnosis.
From surgeon to dentist, I've never been completely sure exactly what career I want. But if you ask me what I want to do, the answer has always been: "Save lives through the medical field."
I want to choose something I will never get bored of. I want to make sure my decision is the right one. I want to make sure I'm going to make an impact, but most importantly, I want to make my mark on the world.
As a middle school student, I learned of high schools that specialized in career clusters, and ultimately I met my match in Silva Health Magnet High in El Paso. I didn't receive my acceptance letter until July 2011, when I learned that 200 students had been chosen to attend and I was one of them. I was overjoyed.
Freshman year was one of the best years of my life. I excelled in my health science class, and I was offered opportunities to volunteer at hospitals all over the city, played basketball and served on the student council, all while making good grades. Sophomore year was no different.
As a junior at Silva, you are given the chance to go to the nearby hospital and clinics and observe the doctors and nurses to see what it is exactly what they do. But it was during my junior year when everything changed.
I have not been going on rotations like my classmates, but I have been learning firsthand about oncology.
This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful my cancer journey has given me another opportunity to reach out to people and offer them hope -- and, potentially, save lives. I'm thankful to the people who have helped save my life, but I'm also thankful for my brain tumor. I'm thankful to have been given this chance to share who I am and my thoughts on my disease.