Survivors Reunited (Julia & Christine’s Story)

Survivors Reunited (Julia & Christine’s Story)


When I was four and a half months old, I was diagnosed with a low-grade optic pathway glioma. My parents took me to NYU hospital were they met Dr. Epstein and Dr. Wisoff. They were confident that my tumor would be able to be treated through surgery and then chemotherapy. Eighteen and a half months later, with the grace of God and medicine I was able to overcome my brain tumor. Unfortunately, I did suffer vision loss in my right eye and am visually impaired in my left eye.
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Growing up in school was a challenge, to say the least, for me. The other children did not understand what it was like for me to have a disability. They would tease me about my vision and surgical scars to the point where I was bullied all the way through middle school. There were times that the teachers did not know what to do or how to help me to succeed in my work. At times, it felt impossible to get through school, but my family lifted me up, were always there for me, and told me to never give up. Years later, while I was at Caldwell University, my life had changed for the better. I began to pursue my degree in communications and vocal performance. It was at Caldwell that the most amazing thing happened…

Julia and Christine Together Again We were both in the same school where we had met one night in the music wing of the college. What we did not know was that we had met before, twenty-two years ago. One day, we just began talking and I mentioned to her that I was visually impaired from a brain tumor. At that point, Christine informed me that she had a brain tumor as a baby, as well. I asked her where she went for treatment, she said, “NYU.” I asked, “Do you know Dr. Allen?” She nodded her head and asked, “Maya?” We began to cry and called our parents. My mother was at work when I asked, “Hey Mom, do you know a Christine from when I was at NYU?” She responded, “Yes! You girls were roommates in chemotherapy…! She was having a bagel and you were having your bottle!” I said, “Oh my god! We both go to Caldwell U!” It just felt like something out of a movie! I mean, how often does a miracle happen in a lifetime? I survived a brain tumor that was almost impossible to overcome and I made a great friend who knows what this feels like. I really do believe that God puts you through things for a reason.

Carolyn

Carolyn


Carolyn is a hard-working young woman who is currently a sophomore in high school. She is also a brain tumor survivor and lost her father when she was little. Many brain tumor survivors face difficult challenges as a result of surgeries, treatments, and missed time at school. Carolyn was experiencing difficulties after she finally returned to school, including problems with her schoolwork and anxiety about her social life. To help Carolyn, she was referred to Making Headway Education Specialist Sabina Bragg.
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Ms. Bragg worked with the family and realized that at the heart of Carolyn’s struggles there was a common theme: school instruction simply did not meet her unique needs. Ms. Bragg went to the school, conducted staff interviews, and observed Carolyn in several learning environments. Using this information, as well as a previous neuro-psychological evaluation, Ms. Bragg put together a comprehensive presentation for Carolyn’s instructional team at school. She worked with them to develop creative instructional approaches, such as the use of an iPhone to take audio notes instead of written notes, as note-taking was difficult for Carolyn. Ms. Bragg demonstrated how small group instructional tables would provide the special education support that would not only support Carolyn, but also the entire class. Ms. Bragg helped change the mindset in the school, enabling staff to understand that Carolyn’s problems were due to behavioral issues caused by her treatment, and were typical of a child with her complex medical background.

Carolyn continues to show how strong she is despite all that she has been through. Her mother is extremely happy with the progress that she has made and is grateful for Ms. Bragg’s assistance, passion, and expertise.

Martin

Martin


Martin’s brain tumor, diagnosed when he was just two years old, resulted in brain damage that led to a variety of learning disabilities. When he reached elementary school age, Making Headway education specialist Dr. Susan Leslie, and other members of our Ongoing Care Team, worked closely with Martin’s family to ensure he would get the best education possible.
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Dr. Leslie quickly became an integral part of Martin’s local public school team. Over the years, she helped his educators carve out a streamlined program for the boy that emphasized basic academics as well as independence, safety, and life skills.

When Martin turned 18, Dr. Leslie identified a residential program for him that focused on functional life skills and job training, and his local school district agreed to finance his stay there until the age of 21. Martin has just completed his first year at the program, and has transitioned very well. He has made friends, learned how to manage public transportation on his own, and is enjoying the independence of living apart from his parents. He is also exploring a variety of future employment opportunities.

Martin has made great strides toward overcoming his disability, and he and his family are pleased to be able to envision a happy, independent future for him.

Nancy

Nancy


Nancy has a condition called Neurofibromatosis 1, which often causes tumors on the optic nerve, and Nancy is no exception. Tumors grew in her eyes early on, and following treatment she was left with learning disabilities as well as an array of physical problems, from speech and visual impairment to scoliosis. To complicate matters, Nancy’s family has had to move three times, each time landing her in a new school district. It was a great relief to Nancy’s family when they were referred to Making Headway.
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Through Making Headway, Nancy was able to work with Education Specialist Patricia Weiner, who provided the girl and her family with support and guidance. Ms. Weiner helped Nancy’s teachers and school administrators in each school and district understand her unique needs, and advocated to ensure she received appropriate services every time. An important feature of these services is large print textbooks and other resources to support her visual impairment.

With this strong, knowledgeable support, Nancy made it successfully through elementary school. She recently entered high school, where she continues to get the support she needs, and is doing very well.

Susan

Susan


At age six, Susan was one of the brightest children in her class. Then she fell very ill. Tests revealed the presence of a large cell Anaplastic PNET—a malignant brain tumor. Suddenly, instead of experiencing the excitement of first grade, Susan was undergoing surgery to remove the tumor, then facing a long round of chemotherapy and radiation. While the treatment worked wonders on her cancer, the illness and its aftermath left their marks. Her hearing was compromised, the right side of her body was weakened (hemiparesis), and she was discovered to have developed a number of special learning needs.
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Susan’s neuropsychologist referred the child and her family to Making Headway, where they were introduced to Education Specialist Patricia Weiner, a member of our Ongoing Care Team. This was the start of a relationship that would last for many years. Ms. Weiner helped the anxious parents understand Susan’s changing needs, the services available to address these needs, and how best to obtain those services. She joined the family in working with teachers and special educators, as well as physical, occupational, language, hearing, and vision therapists.

From elementary through high school, Ms. Weiner continued to assist Susan’s family at dozens of meetings at school and with the Department of Education. She repeatedly observed in Susan’s classrooms to ensure that her needs were being met. Susan’s family remained very involved as well. Over the course of Susan’s schooling, over 200 educators played a role in helping her achieve success. Susan was still a bright and determined child, and with the help and support of all these adults she was able to compensate for many of her impairments.

Not long ago, Susan graduated high school with honors, and today she is attending community college. She’s doing quite well, but Making Headway Foundation will always be there for her if she needs us.

Henry

Henry


Henry’s brain tumor was discovered just before his fourth birthday and it required intensive treatment. Unfortunately, the very treatment that saved his life also left Henry with a host of challenges, including memory deficits, difficulties with executive functioning, language and motor skills problems, and more. When he reached second grade, Henry was introduced to Making Headway, where he and his family met Education Specialist Dr. Susan Leslie.
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Once Dr. Leslie had helped the family understand the various services that could make a significant difference for their son, they concluded that their local school district would not be able to provide what he needed. With Dr. Leslie’s help, they explored neighboring districts, and the family moved in time for Henry to begin third grade at a new school. At that point, Dr. Leslie became an integral part of Henry’s school team, helping them develop strategies and accommodations that would foster his school success.

Henry is currently in ninth grade and doing remarkably well. With the help of continued language and academic support services, he is working at grade level. On track for an academic diploma, Henry has every intention of attending college. In the meantime, Dr. Leslie continues to be there for him, meeting with his family and the school team regularly to review and adjust his educational plan.

Mary’s Story

Mary’s Story


Mary was an 8-year-old girl, newly diagnosed with a pineoblastoma and associated hydrocephalus who had just undergone a surgical resection to remove the tumor from the pineal gland of her brain. Most children who undergo this type of surgery encounter a variety of side effects, including ones that affect both motor and mental functions. Neuropsychologist Dr. Kate McGee (whose position is funded by Making Headway) was asked to consult with the family due to concerns regarding her language, processing, and communication following her surgery.
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Through an assessment battery which was individually-tailored to account for Mary’s hearing loss, Dr. McGee was able to discern that she was, in fact, cognitively intact and did not have cognitive or expressive language deficits, despite initial concerns to the contrary. In fact, Mary was very bright, with important areas of neurocognitive strength that were being masked by her newly acquired hearing deficits. Furthermore, in attempting to compensate for her hearing loss, Mary was relying entirely on alternative strategies for communication. Dr. McGee’s consultation helped to inform Mary’s physical, occupational, and speech and language therapies, highlighting that in order to communicate effectively, Mary required direct eye contact to enhance her ability for lip reading. Thereafter, Mary was far better able to communicate interpersonally and express her needs with both her treatment team and her parents.

Fortunately, as her medical situation stabilized, discussion was able to shift to her return to school and associated educational needs in the context of her medical history and hearing impairment. Educational Coordinator at Hassenfeld, Julia Gomez, met with Mary’s family and communicated with her school to ensure appropriate support and accommodations were put in place in anticipation of her return to the classroom. With the support of Making Headway and the NYU Hassenfeld Center, Mary’s future looks bright.

Arnold

Arnold


Arnold was only five years old when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He received six weeks of radiation and eleven weeks of chemotherapy. The chemotherapy was cut short due to a variety of serious side effects include hearing loss and the onset of learning disabilities. When he returned to school, his teachers reported “things he knew before the surgery, he forgot after the surgery”. He also needed to re-learn basic motor skills. Over the years, Making Headway has worked with the family and the school to ensure that Arnold received the best possible education and the services that he needed to achieve his goal of graduating high school.
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Arnold is currently enrolled in a co-teaching integrated classroom in 8th grade. This class has both a general education and special education professional assigned to work with both classified and non-classified students. Arnold will have the same program next year when he transitions to high school. In addition to the integrated class, Arnold receives a series of special services, including: speech, language, and physical therapy; a 1:1 paraprofessional; and special testing accommodations (extended time, questions read to him, etc.).

Over the past year, Arnold has made tremendous progress. With the specialized resources he now receives, his results on both the math and reading state tests improved by over 50%. He is now achieving at grade level and on a Regents Diploma High School track. Every day is still a struggle, but Making Headway and Arnold are working hard to overcome any challenges and achieve his goals.

Standing Up (Michael’s Story)

Michael’s Story


My parents told me I swung my four-year-old feet to the side of the bed. I watched my legs dangle, while they held my IV tubes to follow me. Although I had been recuperating from emergency surgery (due to a complication during my radiation therapy), it was time to see if I could walk by myself. My parents said I had become weaker, trembling as they supported me, but I stood up.
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hope and help. Someone had once given me a little card with the poem “Footprints in the Sand.” I read it, probably like anyone reads it for the first time, and was surprised by the ending— because you do not see it coming when you read it for the first time. As a glioblastoma brain tumor survivor, I have many challenges. We all need to be carried sometimes, but on occasion, we have the ability to stand up and carry others.

Making Headway exists because it has understood this all along. When I trace my cancer journey, I see how Making Headway has been there to comfort, to educate, to encourage, and to celebrate everyone walking this particular journey. To make progress, you need to walk forward, but to make headway, you need others.

I have remained in remission since my treatment in 2005. However, I have suffered cognitive and physical deficits, including mild hemiparesis, from the trauma of this diagnosis. By surviving, my responsibility is to reveal my purpose, with gratitude. Now eighteen, I am so appreciative and excited to be attending college. I have much to accomplish, so I am using my inner strength and gratitude to ensure that I can land on my feet—because when I do stand up, my diligence delivers, my tenacity triumphs, and I rise to overcome my challenges. Grateful for how Making Headway has carried me through, I smile knowing that sometimes I can feel sand under my feet.

You’ve Come a long way baby (Jake’s Story)

You’ve Come a long way baby (Jake’s Story)


YOU’VE COME A LONG WAY, BABY. The slogan—from a cigarette ad in the 70s—is now, thank goodness, very much outdated. But it can be used in a different context. Our son, Jake, has come a long way from when he was a 3-month-old baby in 1990 with a rare malignant brain tumor, to where he is today as a 30-year-old man. Yes, he has never spoken, and he is significantly developmentally delayed, but he has overcome many obstacles that most take for granted. Plus, he is the happiest person we have ever met.
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We will never forget meeting the late Dr. Fred Epstein, Jake’s surgeon. Leaning back in his chair with his cowboy boots on his desk, Fred confidently told us that he would likely be able to remove Jake’s tumor. Meeting Dr. Jeffrey Allen was also unforgettable. He laid out the facts. Jeff, despite all his experience, had only treated three kids with Jake’s tumor: one had passed, one was ok, and the other was somewhere in between. (Making Headway originated when Dr. Epstein, along with Dr. Allen, began the Institute for Neurology and Neurosurgery.) Jake was often a patient at NYU Hospital. The halls and rooms then were dingy. But that was where we met Maya Manley. She warmly greeted us and then suggested that we attend a meeting. That was the beginning of our partnership with Maya and Ed.

Over the past 30 years, advances have been made in the treatment of pediatric brain and spinal cords tumors—but baby, we still have a long way to go. Today, there are more than 28,000 children living with a brain or spinal cord tumor. Over 2,500 children are diagnosed every year (seven every day), and they are currently the leading cause of death among all childhood cancers! Pediatric brain and spinal cord tumor achievements have not kept pace with other areas of oncology, where great strides have been made.

Every day when we are with Jake, we are reminded how lucky we are! We want many more children and their families to feel as lucky (and even luckier). While Jake was never able to go to college, how great is it that among the myriad things that Making Headway funds, we grant college scholarships for brain tumor survivors. Who knows, maybe one of them will become a leading scientist or philanthropist in this fight. In the meantime, help us now, by contributing to Making Headway. It would be the best possible 30th birthday present for Jake (and us).