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

Some may say that my life changed for the worse on the day I got in to a car accident in October 2011. I choose to look back and believe it changed for the better.  After hitting the windshield of the car I was driving I was taken to the hospital to get stitches and complete a CT scan to determine if I had injury to the brain. That CT scan turned in to an MRI which turned in to a trip to another hospital where they kept me for 3 days.  The staff later informed me that I had an unidentified mass on my brain that would need a follow up with a neurosurgeon.

To make a long story short, I had a biopsy in November 2011 that results showed to be a Diffuse Astrocytoma Grade II. Options were to do surgery or wait and watch. At this point it was not considered malignant, nor was it considered benign as it would likely return in the future.  I opted for surgery since the location of the tumor was in a place that was accessible and I was young and healthy. I waited to do the surgery until April 2012, though; because I wanted to celebrate my 26th birthday before jumping in head first (pun intended) on something I wasn’t entirely sure I would make it out of.  I came out of surgery and the doctor said he had done a total gross resection, later sharing expectations that it shouldn’t return for at least 5 years. AWESOME! I was back to driving 2 weeks later and back and to work 4 weeks later. Life was great!

Fast forward two years to March 2014. I was 28, engaged and planning a wedding, when my life changed yet again. I had a first time seizure (later determined to be a partial complex seizure) about an hour after falling asleep one Friday night.  My fiancé took me to the hospital and among a frenzy of thoughts I had the gut feeling that my tumor had come back. Indeed it had as was confirmed after an MRI and subsequently I had second brain surgery in April 2014. Only this time, the tumor returned as a Grade III Anaplastic Astrocytoma. I “officially” had brain cancer. I would soon complete 6 weeks of radiation (30 rounds) and at the same time 6 weeks of chemotherapy (42 consecutive days). My biggest fear came when I lost my hair from the radiation about 3 weeks in. It may sound vain but losing my hair has likely been one of the most difficult parts of this battle. I realize now how silly that is and know that over time my hair will grow back. I realize too, that my hair is not what defines me. Nor has it been what has defined me through this whole journey.

My faith and strong belief in Jesus Christ has helped me persevere and march forward in the face of adversity. My attitude has and will always be to keep fighting until I can no longer fight. I have been beyond blessed in my journey and quite frankly feel silly applying for such a grant because, like Nicki, I feel there are more deserving candidates than myself. I also think, in part, it is extremely difficult to ask for help. But, with all of that said, brain cancer can wreak havoc on a person’s financial security as medical bills pile up. I was also out of work for 11 weeks after my second brain surgery and had put off paying some monthly bills to try and keep my head above water, only paying for essentials such as rent, electric and water. If I were granted assistance from Nicki Leach Foundation I would use the money to put towards getting back on track with bills or maybe even ahead if I can since my journey won’t stop here.

So, to that I say, bring on the next chapter!  I may not know what the future holds, but I don’t have to. I find comfort in knowing that my story has already been written. This part of my life is just a chapter within my book.  I don’t have to know what’s to come because I have learned that it’s not about the future, it is about living in the now. Nicki left that legacy when she chose to stand toe-to-toe, stare her cancer in the face and continue with her dream to attend classes at UNF despite all that was against her and until the very, bitter end. I want to be like Nicki and stay determined to live my life to the fullest despite my own challenges. I will march on with my head held high. Thanks Nicki for leading the way! And thank you Nicki Leach Foundation for helping young adults with cancer.
All my love,
Tara Newton