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A Success Story - Crystal Bialas

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Crystal Bialas 

Crystal is graduated from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, majoring in Early Childhood Education.  Crystal's battle with cancer has helped her uncover her passion for teaching children and making a difference in their lives.  She is a Craniopharyngioma (Brain Tumor) survivor.  In her own words:

“Having been born overseas in Rota, Spain, daughter of a U.S. Navy serviceman, my story begins when I was two years old.  Strange symptoms began:  I could barely keep my balance, I always wanted to sleep (on my knees, with my bottom in the air), and I wouldn't eat.  I was constantly making trips to the doctor, who almost performed surgery on my stomach, thinking I had a gastrointestinal problem.  They could not determine the cause of my illness, and finally, the symptoms subsided.

When I was three, we were back in the United States, in California, when my symptoms returned - along with endless doctor visits.  Finally, I was blessed, my mom tells me, when a neurosurgeon from Oaknoll Naval suggested giving me a CAT Scan.  The results were not good, and I was flown that night by helicopter from Fort Ord to Oakland, incurring my first brain surgery the next day.  After the surgery on a Friday, I had no eyesight.  My mom tells me that she and my dad almost went crazy, and they prayed endlessly.  Saturday came and went, and still no eyesight.  The neurosurgeon said if I didn't get my eyesight back soon, I probably never would.  Finally, on Sunday, my parents came into my room, and my eyesight was back!  It was a miracle!

I recovered from this operation, but then at the age of six, the symptoms reoccurred.  My second brain surgery was followed by endless radiation.  Unfortunately, radiation at such a young age impacted my memory substantially.  By this time, my pituitary was significantly destroyed, so I had to take numerous hormones, for my growth (otherwise, I would be only three feet tall), and female "menstrual cycle;" I also inhale urinary regulatory medicines daily to assist my urinary function.  I have lost my sense of smell, and had several ear operations.

All appeared to be going somewhat fine, then, at the age of eleven, the symptoms started up again.  Off to the "Children's National Medical Center" in Washington, D.C., for my third tumor operation.  This time, I lost over one-third of my eyesight, for both eyes, permanently.

The impacts from cancer have changed my life forever.  But I have learned to enjoy life to its fullest and treasure all I have; my cancer experience has definitely made me stronger.  I am a hard-working student at the "Virginia Beach Technical and Career Education Center" as an Early Childhood Education student.  I try as hard as I can, studying twice as much as my peers, and even earned "Student of the Month" and was nominated as "Student of the Year."

I love teaching children.  I volunteer whenever I can to enhance my social networks (at the YMCA, Recreation Center and Library).  I enjoyed an internship at Childtime, and they even hired me on for the summer - which I enjoyed immensely.  The following year, I had an internship at the North Landing Elementary School, in kindergarten and fifth grade.  I worked at Kindercare Learning Center last summer, and continue to work there during school.  I definitely love watching children learn!  I received the Channel 10 "Young Achiever" award, and was third place in the "Optimist International Essay Contest."  I was also ever-so fortunate to be the recipient of the "Young Old United to Help" (Youth) award, presented by Virginia's Attorney General, Robert McDonnell.  I was also the second place winner of the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) annual contest for Childcare Development. 

My cancer experience has solidified my life values and career goals, specifically of becoming a Kindergarten or Elementary teacher, and enjoying the company of children while helping them learn.  My plan is to obtain an "Associate in Applied Science" degree in "Early Childhood Development," and then follow up with a teaching degree at Old Dominion University.

My cancer has taught me to enjoy the little things in life, including those precious moments with maturing kids.  I am extremely appreciative for what capabilities I still have and still can do, and realize my situation can always be worse.  My parents have endured serious pressures and stress from the never-ending checkups, and I realize this is also quite a financial burden on my family.  I hope to reduce these seemingly endless financial pressures, as much as possible, through the assistance of all-important scholarships.  I am just one person, with an illness I plan to overcome, and I'll work my hardest with my remaining abilities, to teach children, so I can make a small difference in their lives.

Thank you so much, Cancer Survivors' Fund.  I am very excited about this opportunity for my education.  Thank you for making it possible for me to make such a difference in the lives of so many children."

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