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A Success Story - Robert Fowler III

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Robert Fowler III

Robby is attending Washington State University Vancouver in Vancouver, Washington, majoring in Marine Biology.  Robby's nearly lifelong journey with cancer has shown him that he needs to help take care of the world, people and creatures.  He will be doing this as a Marine Biologist.  He has survived a Chiasmatic Optic Glioma Brain Tumor.  In his own words:

I am who I am today because I have spent a lifetime with cancer; it has become a way of life for me. 

It has been a challenge, but along with the bad, good things have come from it as well.  I care about others and about the environment, and I hope to make a difference in the world.  I have inspired many people who admire the positive way I have handled having cancer most of my life.  Many people look at my life and think if I can do it, they too can handle whatever they have to do. 

My mom explained to me that we all have different paths, and this one is mine.  I face this challenge by coping with the things i cannot change in the most positive way possible, and working hard to change what I can.  From the time I was diagnosed with a chiasmatic optic glioma brain tumor at twenty months of age, I have been on chemotherapy numerous times.  Following a brain surgery to biopsy the tumor, I started my first year of chemotherapy.  I don't remember that part of my life well; my parents had just divorced and my mom struggled to raise me, take me to my treatments, and work full time. 

When I was about three and a half, my tumor had grown, and I started another year of chemotherapy.  Luckily, I don't remember much about that time of my life either.  When I was ten years old, my tumor had grown again, and this time, I do remember what it was like to be on chemotherapy and feel different from my friends.  I could no longer run fast, which was one thing that I was good at doing.  My tumor actually grew while on this therapy, so my doctors decided it was time for radiation treatments.  Compared to chemotherapy, the radiation treatments were easy - there were no "pokes."  Soon after I finished five weeks of daily treatments, I had a side effect called 'somnolence syndrome.'  I was very ill for a few months and could not attend school.  I was determined to pass the fifth grade, so I did as much homework as I could to make up what I missed.  This was the first time I faced having to dig deep to hang on to being "normal" and keep up with my friends.  I even played soccer that next fall. 

For a couple of years, I was healthy.  I just had to have MRI's every three months.  I continued to play soccer.  My doctors are still amazed that I played soccer during most of the years while I was growing up.  One thing cancer has taken from me is my vision in one eye, and half of my visual field in the other eye.  On the soccer field, I can't see very well, but I listen and can hear where the ball and other players are.  Not many people realize that I don't have normal vision.  When I was in seventh grade, I was in track and excelled in the 200 meter dash.  I may not be the biggest kid, but I try hard at everything that I do.  Cancer has given me the perspective that you can't take things for granted; that every healthy day is a gift. 

The next year in eighth grade, I started having headaches and felt depressed; something was wrong.  I went in for a routine MRI and found out that my tumor had grown again, and there was a large cystic portion that was causing a lot of pressure in my head.  I had to have another brain surgery to relieve the pressure and drain the cyst.  Then I would start eighteen months on chemotherapy.  I had surgery over Christmas break, and started treatments soon thereafter.  I kept going to school and thought I could get by; no one would know I was sick again.  As soon as my hair started falling out, it was really hard because now I looked different and some kids gave me a hard time. 

By the time I started my freshman year of high school, I had no hair, eyebrows or eye lashes.  I had to enroll in the alternative program because I was too sick to go to school all day, or every day.  It was a very difficult year.  Most of my friends turned their backs on me because I looked different and did not have the energy to do much.  This was the hardest time. 

When I went back to my regular classes my sophomore year, it took a long time to rebuild some friendships and to make new friends.  It didn't happen completely until my junior year.  Kids my age just don't know how to deal with cancer.  At the end of my junior year, I was having headaches again, and I had to have another brain surgery to drain the cyst.  I was playing soccer by that fall, with instructions from the neurosurgeon not to "head" the ball, but to have fun living my life.  My senior year was great.  I succeeded in earning good grades during each year. 

When I was diagnosed, the doctors told my parents I would not survive to be a teenager.  Now here I am, healthy and making plans to have a future.  I never really doubted that I would survive to go to college, but it has been a long and difficult journey to get to this point.       

Because of cancer and my family, I believe my values are strong.  They revolve around what I feel is important - mainly not taking good health for granted, as well as taking care of the world we live in, the people, and the creatures.  These values have helped shape what I want to do with my future: to learn about marine mammals and to find ways to improve or save their environment.  

I am excited about my future.  I greatly appreciate the scholarship from Cancer Survivors' Fund, that will help me continue my education and inspire others while doing it."

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