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A Success Story - Merrilee Reilly

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Merrilee Reilly 

Merrilee is a freshman at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida, majoring in Photojournalism.  Her experience with cancer has taught her to live her life, asking this question daily, 'How will you change a little piece of this world?'  She is a Brain Tumor survivor.  In her own words:

“At the young age of 14, I realized how quickly a life can be changed around.  I went from a normal teenager to an adult within the course of two years.  I went through two brain surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy at the ages of 14, 15 and 16. 

At the beginning of my 9th grade year in school, I was experiencing horrible "headaches."  I had had these "migraines" before, but over the course of time, they became worse and worse.  One day, my mother put her foot down and demanded my father and I were to go get it looked at.  Since I was a teenager, I thought it was absolutely ridiculous: they were merely migraines which I inherited from my father's family.  It was at this time that my life was turned upside down.  The results were set in stone - I had a brain tumor.  I missed two years of school, went through two brain surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy.  Although it was not an easy thing and I would never wish for it upon anyone, I would never take it back. 

I did lose some friends, along with my hair.  I encountered the deaths of my own peers, and with that lost a lot of faith in human beings.  Seeing death and such suffering made me a better person.  I met amazing people, found faith in God for the first time in my life, and learned to value each day I have and every minute within it.  I feel as though to focus on only negatives in life will drive a person crazy, and to try to find the positives within each day is a medicine all of its own.  My positives outweigh my negatives, and luckily I am still alive to learn from them.

It is the past which makes us who we are in the future, and sometimes pain can be the thing that changes a person the most.  I have seen the power of the mind, the heart, and faith working together - whether it be in God or simply yourself.  Because of this, I believe the mind and soul can conquer the impossible.  I would not be who I am today without the experience I went through, so I would not change it.  I feel I am now a stronger, older, smarter, and more appreciative person because of my experience.  I thank God for every day I have, something that so many take advantage of.

I strongly believe that what I went through was a gift to me and a wake up call.  I would never wish this upon anyone but for myself, I feel I am a better person because of it, and I thank God for it everyday.  I am honestly just happy and blessed to still be alive and able to see the good in my own experiences.  I never take a second for granted because I never know what will happen next.

So if there ever is a lesson to learn it is to believe in yourself, no matter the circumstances, because it is you and only you that has the power to change, and the power to live for tomorrow.  I live for the tomorrow of every day and I hope not only to continue to change myself but to help teach others through my story, because we never know when that chance will be taken from us.  How will you change a little piece of this world?      

I am very grateful for this scholarship.  It really is a very big deal.  Thank you   Cancer Survivors' Fund, you have really helped me out!”

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