Cancer survivor ready to pay it forward at GCU
By Jeannette Cruz
GCU News Bureau
Tania Herrera is a survivor. The 17-year-old was diagnosed with ependymoma, a rare type of cancerous brain tumor, six years ago, and her road to recovery is one that her family rarely likes to remember. But these days, it’s a story they boldly share as Tania moves on to the next chapter of her life at Grand Canyon University this fall — she wants to become a nurse.
Tania is among 50 cancer survivors and families to receive a scholarship from the Children’s Cancer Network, a partner with Phoenix Children’s Hospital. She recently was recognized at a GCU Foundation Run to Fight Children’s Cancer event, where volunteers, beneficiaries and supporters gathered to recognize their hard work and dedication and also show their appreciation for what the foundation does.
“Tania is a wonderful example of the transformation and the life span that we are increasing,” said Debbie Accomazzo, race director. “We now have a two-time cancer survivor who has a passion of her own and is taking it forward and will be arriving at our University. That’s what makes it full circle.”
This is Tania’s story.
The diagnosis was anything but immediate. Growing up in Mexico, Tania struggled from frequent migraine headaches, and when her parents looked for help, her physicians seemed to give similar responses — it was simple eyestrain. They promised the family there was nothing to be concerned about.
Tania and her family emigrated to Yuma, Ariz. in 2003, in search of a better future. After seven years, the tumor still went undetected.
One night, Tania and her family had gone out to dinner. On the way home, Tania began having one of her usual migraine episodes. Once home, her mother, Lorena, got her to bathe and put her to bed — as she always did. But that night was different.
“She must have thrown up about six times before she lost consciousness,” her mother recalled. And then she and her husband, Ricardo, rushed to the nearest hospital, where everything quickly became a blur.
The tumor had grown too large, and Tania’s chances for survival were slim. Tania was loaded into a helicopter and flown to Phoenix Children’s Hospital, where doctors drained the fluid buildup and surgically removed the tumor after a three-hour procedure.
“It’s a moment in my life that I don’t like to remember because it’s hard to explain,” Lorena said, growing emotional. “I remember when the doctor walked out of the operating room, and in my mind he was ready to give me bad news. But then he said everything went fine.”
After the surgery, Tania continued treatment and chemotherapy every three months. But, four years later, another tumor appeared. Tania continued chemotherapy and radiation for another year and a half. Fortunately, the treatment worked and the fight was over.
“Thank God,” Tania said. “Having been through what my family and I have gone through pursuing, a degree in nursing means a lot to me because I have this personal experience that I can share with others.”
Her dream is to return to Phoenix Children’s Hospital, to help other scared and sick children.
And the family’s thankful goodwill doesn’t end there. Her younger brother, Gadiel, also plans to attend GCU in the future and wants to work toward becoming a neurosurgeon.
They all can agree on one thing: That’s a beautiful feeling.
Contact Jeannette Cruz at (602) 639-6631 or [email protected]