My name is Hunter Markham, I am 22 years old and just graduated from the University of North Florida as a double major in Business Management and Transportation & Logistics. When I first started at UNF in the fall of 2017, I was experiencing severe headaches which my pediatric neurologist had previously diagnosed as cerebritis. I toughed it out for a long time and didn’t think much of the consistent pain in my forehead but one night in June of 2018 I had headaches so excruciating that I became nauseous and had to go to the ER at UF Health Jacksonville. After doing multiple MRI’s and CT scans, the doctors worked on getting my pain under control and the next day I was able to meet my new neurologist as I had just turned 18. However, her first impression wasn’t too flattering, she came in to inform me that I had a brain tumor in my right frontal lobe and that my pediatric neurologist had been misdiagnosing it the whole time. She also told me that because of the tumor’s location that they were scared to operate on me and instead suggested doing a biopsy and choosing a treatment based off the results. 

After a lengthy discussion the medical staff told my family and I to think everything over and make a decision whenever we felt comfortable, so we went home and looked into other options before going forward with anything. A couple weeks later we found ourselves at the Adventhealth Cancer Institute in Orlando, Florida to get another opinion and the medical staff there also recommended doing a biopsy then moving forward according to the results. My family and I came back home to Jacksonville a little discouraged as we were hoping to hear a different opinion. A couple weeks passed then we decided to visit with one more neuro-oncologist at Mayo Clinic here in Jacksonville and she told us what we wanted to hear. She felt confident in doing an awake brain surgery considering where the tumor was located and the surgeon just so happened to have a little time to meet with us as well to explain how such a surgery would go. After everything was said and done, I walked out of there with an awake brain surgery scheduled only two weeks away from the time we walked in that day. 

In the two weeks leading up to my operation I didn’t think much of it being an awake brain surgery but when my friends threw a head shaving party the night before my surgery, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I woke up the next morning at 4:30 AM and I immediately became very nervous while starting to rethink things so I did the only thing I knew to do – pray. It was still dark when I got to Mayo early that morning and multiple family members met me in the waiting room before going in. Soon after, the anesthesia team came out to get me and prayed alongside my family and I upon the request of my grandma. At that point I was super anxious and prayed as much as I could before they put me under, specifically asking that God would hold my hand through it all because of how worried I was. When I was awoken in the middle of the operation to do the cognitive monitoring assessments, a nurse was there holding my hand guiding me through everything and pushing me to stay awake as long as I possibly could so the surgeon could remove as much of the tumor as possible. 

The next time I woke up I was in the ICU and had family and friends standing around me, they were eager for me to wake up to tell me that the surgeon had successfully removed 98.5% of the tumor. After almost a year of recovering, I returned to classes in the summer of 2019 and have been monitoring the remainder of the tumor via MRI every 6 months. Thankfully, the biopsy revealed that it was a nonaggressive tumor and is very slow growing so I currently don’t have to do any type of treatment until the radiology suggests otherwise. I am so honored to have received the Nicki Leach Foundation Endowed Scholarship, it has really made these last couple of years much easier for me and has taken a lot of weight off my shoulders. Because of the Nicki Leach Foundation’s generous donations, I was very motivated after returning to classes and graduated with magna cum laude honors. I simply cannot verbally express how appreciative I am of this foundation, I will forever be thankful for the Nicki Leach Foundation and what it stands for.