The Sunday conversation is edited for length and clarity. Writer Ann Hardie can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Atlanta Ride for Kids benefiting Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation
Cumming Fairgrounds, 235 Castleberry Rd., Cumming, GA 30040
Being told you have a brain tumor is terrifying for grownups. Just imagine what it is like if you are 12, 6, even 4 years old. Some 28,000 kids in this country have been diagnosed with a brain tumor, and 13 are diagnosed every day, according to the national Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. On June 1, Atlanta Ride for Kids, part of a nationwide series of motorcycle races, will raise money to benefit the foundation’s research and raise scholarship money for brain tumor survivors. Mandy Dean of Snellville was 8 when she was diagnosed with a lemon-size malignant tumor on her cerebellum. Two decades later, Dean, the leasing manager for an apartment complex, talks about her experience and why she participates in Atlanta Rides for Kids every year.
Q: Do you remember when you were told you had a brain tumor?
A: I remember it well. It was very scary because I didn’t know what to think. It took about seven different doctors to diagnose me —they couldn’t figure out what was wrong. My mom, who was a registered nurse, is actually the one who first diagnosed me. I had surgery and six weeks of radiation. I had to go to elementary school bald and kids can be cruel. Then there was the fear I wouldn’t make it.
Q: Any idea on the source of your tumor? Environment? Heredity?
A: The doctors said I was born with it and that it was a ticking time bomb. I was the first person in my family to have cancer. Since then, my aunt has had breast cancer, my grandfather died from leukemia and my grandmother died from lung cancer. As a kid, I felt the tumor was my fault, that somehow I had brought this on.
Q: You haven’t had a recurrence in all these years?
A: I haven’t and I am considered cured. I still need to have checkups and there are still side effects from the treatment that I will have to deal with for the rest of my life, including type 2 diabetes. The tricky thing about cancer is that you are never done. You never know when something else will pop up.
Q: Do you enjoy Atlanta Ride for Kids or is there a part of you that would like to avoid this whole cancer thing?
A: I have really embraced my experience and am open about it. Ride for Kids is something I look forward to each year because I know we are getting closer and closer to finding a cure. The event is a support group as well. I know all the people who are raising money, who are supporting me and others diagnosed with pediatric brain tumors.
Q: How has the landscape changed for kids since you were diagnosed?
A: Things are getting better. More kids are being diagnosed properly. More are surviving. We need to get a cure so even more will.
Q: Have you lost a lot of friends to cancer?
A: I went to a cancer camp for 10 years when I was growing up and I lost a lot of friends. Even now, I will meet kids at the ride one year and they are not there the next because they couldn’t beat the battle. It is really difficult.
Q: On the flip side, you must know survivors, too?
A: I do. We make sure we check up on each other. We are a tight group.
Q: How has cancer changed your life?
A: It made me who I am today. It made me have to grow up faster than any child should. It took a really hard toll on me because I couldn’t do things like gymnastics that I could before. It has made me more compassionate and I am a very positive person and thankful for each day. You never know when that could be threatened or taken away.
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Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@ajc.com