Junior Anna Liu overcomes struggle with cancer after doctors discover tumor

The date was Friday, September 18. School had just begun to feel like a rhythm and it was just another day for Ames High junior Anna Liu. Besides a couple of minor headaches everything was relatively ho-hum. But then it all changed. Anna was suddenly struck by a headache so massive that she had to call her mom to go home. Another not-so-quick interview reveals the reason behind her six week hiatus from school. So what happened that day? Anna Liu: At first it was just during the day I’d get periodic headaches…not bad enough that I couldn’t function but bad enough so that I noticed and it caused some serious discomfort. But I didn’t even mention it to my parents or anything because I just thought it’d go away. When we saw the doctor, she didn’t know what was up. She thought it might just be stress. Seriously, I remember the first time we went, she was even like jokingly, “Haha, you don’t think it’s a tumor do you?” When did you notice things were amiss? AL: I started having double vision and headaches during the day/night. I’d wake up from headaches, and then I’d be really sleepy during the day even if I went to bed really early. It freaked my parents out a bit; I was just so out of energy. I’m telling you brain tumor would have been like the last thing I guessed. My mom thought at first it was because I was lacking some nutrition or something. How did you finally find out it was a tumor? AL: The week I went to the hospital that first Monday was actually the worst case of symptoms yet. I had a mild seizure at school. Not freaky jerking on ground seizure, but like, massive confusion like “Where am I?” It’s hard to describe. I called my mom and she took me to the hospital. They took blood/pee etc. tests which were useless obviously because I had a TUMOR not a disease…but anyway we just went home. Then on Tuesday we went to the eye doctor and I guess he noticed something. The tumor was kind of pushing up against the big optic nerve which was why I had double vision. So I guess he thought, ‘Yes, this is a tumor.’ So he was like “Dude let’s schedule an MRI ASAP!” The location of the tumor was kind of sensitive because it was by the eye stuff and I think that’s why they couldn’t just remove it using surgery. They determined radiation as the best method of treatment. We had to wait a very boring week at the hospital doing nothing while they figured that out. How exactly did it get there? AL: Honestly, how it got there is just…it did. It’s not genetic, it’s not because of something I did or ate, it just HAPPENED to be me. Honestly, cancer? That’s the stuff of movies and books and well, other people, right? Yeah this kind of showed me…it’s not. It’s YOU. Actually, I’m really lucky though, since my “cancer scare” was basically very drama-free and easy. What exactly was it? AL: The tumor was a “germinoma” which basically meant it was a totally average-joe tumor that has nothing special about it and could be either malignant or benign. Luckily, mine was benign, they found out after surgerying out a teeny piece and dissecting it for like a week. It’s not really like I had any specific cancer like leukemia or lung, it was just a brain tumor that developed for some reason. To this day, I don’t know why. They never told us. I dont think there is a reason really. What was treatment/the hospital experience like? AL: Basically I was bedridden for a week attached to more things than I could count. Every time I had to go to the bathroom it was like a searching game for all the wires and tubes to disconnect whatever so I could actually go. I had a pipe literally stuck into my brain draining out brain fluids, definitely interesting to have that hanging in a bag next to you at all times. Apparently I have thick skin and tiny veins, so it was a challenge every time for the nurse to get the needle in. One time when I had to get an IV in, it took two separate nurses bent over me with a special flashlight thingy that makes veins more visible and 10+ minutes before they got it in. I got treatment for six weeks Monday through Friday every day for like 20 minutes. It didn’t take very long and it didn’t hurt or anything so it was fine. Nothing really bad or good about it other than that I needed to do it. What was the worst thing about it? AL: I don’t know; the worst part may have been just losing my hair. Wow, that sounds vain. Other than that, pre-cancer me and post-cancer me is like exactly the same. You don’t really appreciate having nice hair until you no longer have it. I’m sad I had to go to to the hospital right before homecoming. But better that than collapsing in the middle of the dancefloor with Miley Cyrus playing in the background. Wow, that would have been kind of awful but might have made a better [WEB] story. Yet I consider myself lucky, because I feel really very thankful that I had so much support from other people, so much inner emotional support. I mean I didnt break down or anything so that’s good and just the fact that my cancer was so mild and easy. It’s pretty amazing. Has your perspective on life changed at all? AL: My perspective on life is just, “Wow, anything can happen,” like the stuff you least expect. I mean this is crazy – brain tumor right at the beginning of my junior year of high school? But I survived; I mean, I had great support from my family; my mom stayed with me during my hospital stay and my Iowa City treatment period, which was really awesome. I just hope what’s left of the tumor never becomes harmful, because there is that risk. I don’t think it’ll ever be completely gone.