The Nicki Leach Foundation
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Summit, New Jersey 07902
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Olivia's Story

Reading Nicki's story really got to me since I was diagnosed with cancer around the same age that Nicki was and I completely understand how hard it is to go through all of this, especially being a teenager.

It all started around April 2011, last few months of my senior year in high school. My cousin and his wife came from Colorado for a five day visit. Wanting to show them around, and myself having little time since I worked about twenty hours a week and went full time to school, I took them to the beach on afternoon.

I lifted my twenty three year old cousin for a family photograph and felt something pull in my lower back. The days went by and I couldn't get up from bed, it was unbearable. I had never experienced a pain like this before, so my mom called our pediatrician who recommended an MRI of the spine. I went to get an MRI and it showed that I had a mass between my L-4 and L-5 in my spine. Prom was two weeks away and I was so excited for it, but the excitement didn't last long. We scheduled an appointment with a neurosurgeon and of course he said that I needed surgery to remove it.

I was scared out of my mind, the surgery was going to be 5 hours long and I had a 50/50 chance of never walking again. Not only that, but my surgery was scheduled for the day right after my high school graduation, June 7, 2011. Prom went by just like my last days of high school, but all I could think of was the day of my surgery. Graduation was nice, but I did not enjoy it at all. Everyone went out with their families to celebrate while I was at home showering with a special shampoo because the next day I was going to undergo a big surgery. Well, and so it was the day. I got my surgery and thank god everything went well. Five days later I was released from the hospital and back home. My recovery was two weeks long, but I was determined to make it go by faster. Indeed, two weeks later I started my first semester in college. By the end of June my doctors had scheduled an appointment for a checkup. I went with my dad, mom, and one of my sisters. The doctor said it was what we were all dreading, Ependymoma. Ependymoma is a very rare cancer which only about 5% of the population has. It can be either in the brain or spine. From there on my life turned around completely. I needed radiation therapy and doctors told me that it wasn't convenient that I did college because it was a lot of stress, I did it anyway.

Unfortunately what was left of my tumor would have needed 40 times more of radiation dosages of what was usually given to people, and it would destroy all my organs. It was then when my parents and my doctors made the decision of going to Jacksonville, Florida where they offered a new type of radiation that wouldn't trespass my spine; therefore, not doing so much damage. I was very sad, I was going to have to leave my family for six weeks during the hardest time of my life and also I would have to find a way for professors to let me do my fall semester in college; I was determined to do it. I had a hard time explaining my situations and having teachers saying okay to me missing a month and a half. So I did 2 classes online and 2 on campus, the teachers from on campus classes emailed me the exams, I could never thank them enough for their support.

I finally went to Jacksonville after getting many brain and spine MRIs, about 6, and a lumbar puncture to make sure that my cancerous cells hadn't spread in my entire spine. It was tough, every tiring and emotional. I dealt with it pretty good, I had no choice but to. Although I went with my mom, I would only see my sisters and dad on the weekends. I finally came home after six weeks, more excited than ever. I had a nice welcoming from my family and friends, I really missed them. I came to realize how hard it was to keep up with school because my memory was very impaired with the treatment, but as always I was determined to get it done. I started feeling really bad after treatments, extreme headaches and leg pains. My doctor scheduled an emergency brain and spine MRI. Throughout this whole treatment, everyone asked me how I was doing so well and I was so positive about it. All I would respond was “What do you gain by being sad and crying over it, you will just get sicker”, they were surprised. Some people told me I wouldn't be able to manage it I would just go insane, others told me that it would be exhausting and they would be depressed, I would just smile and tell them that you have to get every single part of your body to give you strength, and if I was able to do it they would be too. Having cancer has changed my life completely. It has made me a better person and it has given me a whole different perspective in life. To me this was just another milestone in my life and I knew I would get over it. In fact I finished my semester with two A's and 2 B+. Now, everyday problems are just circumstances in life. When something goes wrong, I realize that I have a million reasons to smile. Yes I don't feel good at all every day, yes it is harder than everyone else to go to school, and I cannot do most of the things that regular teens do, but someday I will be able to, I'm sure.

When I start feeling a little better, I want to volunteer at Miami Childrens Hospital where I got my surgery; I want to give back to them what they have given and still give me. I know that there are a lot of kids that are sick like me, and I know that just a smile makes their day. Christmas is coming up, and when my family and friends ask me what I want all I say is to be healthy. I wish I could make every single person who is sick better, but although I can't I try my best to encourage them and give them strength so that they can have all the positive energy go to their illness and get cured. Although my health problems are far from over, I try to smile and take each day as it comes. With Nicki's gift I would like to have that money towards my doctor's appointment and if I start feeling a little better go on a small vacation with my boyfriend which I haven't seen for 8 months. As you may know, having pre existing conditions no insurance takes you. I have share of cost with a deductable of 1,500 dollars. My parents only earn around 2,000 dollars a month and it is very hard to meet all my medical needs. For example, just a visit with an oncologist here in Miami is 1,200 dollars, and most of the times I can't go unless I get a big procedure done before such as an MRI. Having this rare cancer, not may foundations help because I don't meet their requirements of the most common cancers. Although it is not common it is still cancer, regardless of the name. I would also like to have some money saved for this kind of situations. My boyfriend and I have been going out for about three years and due to some family problems he wasn't able to be with me throughout this whole time nor my prom or graduation. With luck he'll be here in January and I would love to go on little vacation with him as well. I am only 19 years old and I have a whole lifetime to go, of course if everything goes well with my health. Whenever someone has a problem with school or family I tell them, “With health you have everything, the rest will just fit in eventually”.