It was Wednesday, March 16, 2016. I was eleven years old. I had been suffering recurring, excruciating headaches and on and off nausea for several weeks, which was unusual as I rarely got sick. However, that day I felt perfect and ready for spring break. My mother had pushed for an MRI that morning, despite doctors’ repeatedly saying, “Headaches are common with pre-teenagers… They are probably just migraines… They should go away soon.” She nevertheless stuck with her gut feeling that something was wrong.
After the MRI, they hurried mom to a small doctors’ office and me to a separate area to hang out with one of the nurses. I did not make much of it as the nurse told me to pick any Youtube videos I wanted to watch on the hospital computer. I decided to watch the 2016 Slam Dunk Contest highlights. I knew my mom would come soon and tell me what this was about but it felt like a long time now that I was watching Youtube. We trust each other, and the deal is to always tell the truth, good or bad. So she came back and she did just that… The MRI had revealed a baseball-sized tumor in the back left side of my brain. I was going to have a brain surgery to try to remove as much of it as possible.
“Wait, did I hear that correctly?… Will I be able to play soccer again?… How much school will I miss?… Will I live?…” Those were just some of the many questions racing through my mind at that moment. There were no answers. Just days earlier, I had won a wrestling tournament, led my fifth grade soccer team to a League Championship, and had scored as a striker for my soccer travel team. After a few minutes of crying, I went to the restroom to clean my tears up. I looked up at the mirror, and told myself no matter what was coming my way, “We’ve got this!”
This obstacle was the turning point in my life that gave me a completely new perspective on it. I saw how much goodness there was in the world through all those who supported me, friends, teachers, nurses, and many who did not know me personally. It made me appreciate everything more and become a better person. Most importantly, I saw the magical abilities of hope, grit, and perseverance in action. We fought hard but every second felt like the last minute of a brutal soccer match that we had to win. Through all this though, I met one of the kindest and most brilliant people – Dr. Mark Souweidane! He worked tirelessly and selflessly to help me get through this challenge as easily as possible, taking away all fears, and saving my life! I am thankful for not only being alive but being able to thrive. Every time I return a good grade from school, my family jokes that he must have slipped a magical chip in my brain during surgery.
Arduous times like the ones I went through, are when the truth comes out of a person. With this said, I tried to always keep a positive attitude and stay lighthearted. I grew up faster than other kids my age because I witnessed more than them. I was faced with a life or death experience. My friends, classmates, and teachers were incredibly supportive. I will never forget the huge pile of cards I received with a myriad of hilarious jokes they wrote for me. I will always be grateful for them; however, I know they had no idea what going through such an experience was like. I had no idea either. My only option was to take life day by day and repeatedly count my blessings.
Some of the most valuable lessons I learned from this obstacle transformed me and helped define who I am today. Even throughout treatments, I did not fall behind at school. I graduated from The Buckley School in NYC with Honors and other academic and athletic awards. I now attend Groton School, a boarding school in Groton, Massachusetts and am absolutely loving it. I just received my Fall grades in the mail and am doing well academically, in addition to playing basketball and soccer at Varsity level. I have made many new friends from all corners of the USA and abroad. I know how thrilled Dr. Souweidane is for me! I am currently happier than ever; however, if my brain tumor experience taught me anything, it is that losing or giving up is not an option. I know I am imperfect and everyday I can learn and improve so that losing is less likely. I try to always remember that one must never quit, and, as we say at Groton before sprints, always “feed the rat”.