If you ask Shining Star Brandon to tell you a little about himself, he will tell you he is an easy-going guy, who loves BBQ, meeting new people and hanging out with his friends. What he might not tell you right away is that he was diagnosed with a brain tumor at only 12 years old. A week after he found out about his tumor, he began having complications with his vision. A round of blood-work revealed that the tumor was indeed cancerous, and subsequent surgeries determined he had a teratoma-germinoma tumor- an extremely rare mixed tumor type. When most kids are busy navigating the complicated world of middle-school politics and first crushes, Brandon was forced to come to grips with his mortality.
An active and rambunctious pre-teenager at the time, Brandon was worried about the effects his tumor would have on his lifestyle.
"My brain tumor caused double vision, depth perception loss, and a blind spot. I was nervous I wouldn't be able to do much more active stuff as I did before."
Prior to attending the 2011 Aspen Winter Games, Brandon was worried that his vision loss and medical problems would be an issue for him at the event. He knew he wanted to ski or snowboard, but how could he do either of these highly physical activities with a brain tumor and an eye patch?! Well, Brandon soon learned just how capable he was, despite these challenges.
“I didn't know how to ski or snowboard and was worried that my vision problems would make learning either of the two a huge challenge. But, the Shining Stars found me a great teacher, and within a week, I was flying down a mountain on my own feeling like a king,” Brandon recalls.
After the Winter Games, Brandon and his family were invited to the annual Grand County Family Adventure, as well as the nearly 60 programs each year that Shining Stars offers to kids and families.
“On these trips, we all got to meet other survivors and families of survivors and make lifelong friends, exchanging stories, laughs, and great times. My family loves any trip with the SSF, and always talk about the friends and opportunities we've had thanks to this foundation.”
Today, Brandon is 20 years old. While he has conquered so many of his serious health challenges, the road forward is not easy for pediatric cancer survivors. When the kids we serve are young, there are a number of resources provided to them and to their families through their children’s hospitals, or through programs like Shining Stars. As soon as these kids “age out” of that system, however, they often times feel quite lost. From the lasting physical and mental health impacts of chemotherapy, to the social issues that linger after facing trauma, there is a clear need for some type of support programs for these young adult survivors.
At Shining Stars, we knew we had a chance to fill this gap. So, in 2016, we began offering groundbreaking Young Adult and Mentorship programs for Shining Stars over the age of 18. Brandon was one of our first participants!
In his own words, Brandon describes what these programs have meant to him:
“I felt extremely honored to be part of the Young Adult and Mentorship programs. These are great because we get to know people our own age who have had similar experiences, and I love being able to talk to others about our cancer history and relate in ways that I'm not able to with anyone else. We've all been through the same things, so I don't feel like I'm being out of bounds or riding my high horse when I talk about my whole history. It's comforting, judgment-free, and really relaxing."
In 5 years, Brandon hopes to be finished up with school and working in his chosen field of study. His Shining Stars mentor, Bob, has been a huge help to him in creating this vision for his future.
“Bob has been great for me, helping me find jobs, get my resume around, and many other things. I can always rely on him when I feel like there's nobody else to talk to.”
In the future, Brandon also hopes to give back through volunteer-work and to meet someone special and start a family. We have no doubt that with persistence and dedication, Brandon will accomplish all of his goals. At Shining Stars, it is our honor and privilege to support kids like Brandon, and to help them realize their full potential. As Brandon states, he is out to “fully prove to this world that I may have been pushed down, but I am not out!”