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Everyone meet Michelle, my friend and a fellow cheerleader from high school. Michelle and I were put in the same stunt group my Sophomore year (Michelle’s Freshman year) and I remember our days in cheer camp together, sweating and complaining (hehe), yelling and celebrating, and even that one time I punched one of the girls in our squad so hard her nose started bleeding (sorry Monica!). Of course that was an accident, and we still had so much fun. Ah, the good old days! : )
Michelle didn’t continue cheer after that year, but instead pursued her passion in soccer. Naturally, because I didn’t get to see her at practices everyday, we didn’t keep in touch as much as we had before. During my senior year, Michelle was diagnosed with cancer, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that I got to hear her story and all that she’s been through. You are such an inspiration to all, Michelle! For more on Michelle’s journey, read below.
Just over five years ago I was hit with the news that I had a metastatic glomus jugular tumor. Don’t worry, I had no idea what that meant either. At just sixteen years old, on April 20, 2006, I went in to St. Vincent Hospital in LA to have a large benign blood-filled brain tumor removed behind my right ear. The sixteen-hour surgery must have been an amazing operation to witness, which would explain all the hospital staff in the Operating Room. I lost a lot of blood, but was given multiple blood transfusions while on the table, and the doctors managed to sacrifice only a few of the nerves on the right side of my face leaving me deaf and causing paralysis to the vocal cord and inside of the mouth. Immediately after surgery a body scan took place, and while I was in the ICU the doctors made a dreaded visit to the waiting room and told my family the news that I had over thirty other tumors in my bones: down my spine, ribs, and femurs.
The surgeries continued over the following six weeks. I had spinal rods put in to stabilize a collapsed vertebra, a vocal cord implant, and a feeding tube, just to name a few. After being in that hospital for six weeks, I was then transferred to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles where I began treatments.
“Where do we even start?” seemed to be the question on everyone’s mind. No one had ever seen this cancer before. My treatment cycles became an ongoing experiment, discarding every chemotherapy that did not have a dying effect on the tumors. I had different kinds of radiations and chemotherapies, and when none of those worked I was asked to be a part of a clinical trial in Iowa, and I was the last patient to make it in before being submitted to the FDA. It seems it must have worked because just months later, on February 26, 2008, my scans showed dormant, non-active tumors throughout my body. Treatments stopped, but I was still given a Zometa infusion to strengthen my bones over the following year. My oncologist said if the tumors are not growing, then there is no need to continue treatments. I may just go through life with dead tumors everywhere.
As of April 20, 2011, I have undergone sixteen surgeries. I have become quite the pro when dealing with pain and needles. With a cancer in which no one else in the world has, we celebrate five years of fighting! Through all the ups, downs, pains, surgeries, depression, anger, loneliness, bitterness, and frustration, I would not change one thing about the last six years of my life. It was so hard letting go of the girl I was before the diagnosis, but who I am today is so much more than I ever could have been without this experience. God has used me in unimaginable ways, and will continue to do so until His work in me is done.
“I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!'” (Isaiah 6:8)
All I have wanted to do over the last few years is help other young cancer patients, like myself, get through these trials without feeling alone and misunderstood. I went through four years of feeling that way, and I feel that it is my calling to make sure that no other cancer patient ever feels the way I did. God somehow made me strong enough to get through those tough times on my own. The people He has put in my life today made it so worth the wait.
I am now twenty-one years old, and I attend Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California, where I am studying to be a sign language interpreter while taking classes for my GE. When I graduate I hope to transfer to UCLA and study psychology and focus on my writing. I would like to become a psychologist and work with cancer patients, and I also hope to write a book about my cancer journey, which I am in the process of writing right now.
I want to thank Eileen for putting together this shoot to celebrate my life. It had been years since we saw each other back in high school, and was an absolute pleasure being photographed by her. She has such a beautiful heart and outlook on life, and God is using her in so many ways. Love you, Eileen.
Oh Michelle, I so enjoyed getting to catch up with you and hearing your story through this session. You are truly, truly, an inspiration to everyone! I am so proud of you, girl! Love you tons!
You can visit Michelle’s website here.