From the Balance Beam to the Barber's Chair: My Childhood Cancer Story

Juliana Abrams is a childhood cancer survivor who supports St. Baldick’s Foundation, a childhood cancer charity funding the most promising research to help find cures for kids with cancer.

Growing up I was active and always full of energy. To fuel my need for excitement my parents enrolled me in gymnastics. I soon discovered gymnastics was my calling. After winning many state titles and high-level regional and national titles, I was on my way to becoming a USA Gymnastics Elite gymnast.

Juliana A at gymnastics

In May of 2015 I started having difficulties with my vision and balance.

My mother and I decided that making a trip to some doctors’ appointments was needed. I was having a routine eye exam when the doctor suggested I be taken to the emergency room immediately. He had diagnosed me with papilledema, which is swelling of the optical nerve. He pushed it can be much more serious than it sounds and advised I have more tests done.

Juliana A gymastics jump

Immediately my mother took me to our local hospital. After 12 hours waiting for an MRI the ER doctor came back with the news. At 2:30 a.m. on Tuesday, June 15, 2015 I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Without delay I was transported to Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego.

Three days later I underwent a nearly eight-hour surgery to remove my tumor. The tumor is called an atypical central neurocytoma; I am the only pediatric case to ever have this brain tumor. Luckily it was benign, but I lost the ability to move the left side of my body post-surgery. This would last for nearly six weeks.

Juliana A getting head shaved

Thankfully, in July I was able to return home with a cane and a brace on my left leg. After weeks of therapy at home I returned to gymnastics.

After much thought and consideration by my doctors, my parents and myself, I underwent another surgery to remove the brain tumor. Unfortunately, there were parts of the tumor that weren’t safe for the surgeons to remove and the decision had to be made to stop the surgery. We were still thankful that they were able to get as much of it as they could.

While radiation wasn’t even in my future a year before, now I was facing a much different treatment plan. With the help, love and guidance of my doctors, my family and I decided proton radiation therapy was the right choice.

I successfully completed seven weeks of proton therapy in late November of 2016.

While undergoing proton therapy I discovered the St. Baldrick’s Foundation through my new family of nurses. I was instantly interested in participating and finding ways to help others like me. I began my fundraising page and within the first 48 hours I reached $2,500!

By the time the shave date came I had raised over $11,000 for St. Baldrick’s.

I am so thankful, as someone who has this disease, for foundations like St. Baldrick’s. St. Baldrick’s is funding research to find cures and is bringing together amazing people, researchers, doctors and most importantly, kids like me who have an amazing journey to share.

Juliana A with parents after shaving head

Thank you, St Baldrick’s, for being a part of my journey.

This post was originally published on the St. Baldrick’s Foundation Blog.

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