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She's fighting all the way

Recent high school graduate battling cancer

Recent high school graduate battling cancer

June 16, 2002|by Liz Boch

lizb@herald-mail.com

A high school graduate usually looks forward to a summer of fun before heading to college.

Boonsboro resident Sarah Roseberry, 18, a newly graduated senior from Williamsport High School, is headed for chemotherapy and a clinical trial instead.

At 13, Sarah was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a cancerous brain tumor, after two years of severe vomiting and headaches.

Five years later, Sarah has retained her sense of humor.

"I just bought a purple wig," she said.

After being diagnosed in September 1997, Sarah immediately was admitted to Johns Hopkins Hospital for a six-month stay which included brain surgery.

"I didn't think it was a big deal," Sarah said. "I didn't really know much about cancer. After the surgery, I had to learn how to walk, talk, even swallow again."

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In addition to physical, occupational, speech and cognitive therapy, Sarah saw a psychologist for depression.

Sarah missed celebrating Christmas and New Year's Day at home, but joked, "We heard the gunshots in Baltimore on New Year's Eve and thought they were fireworks."

After 38 radiation treatments to her brain, a second surgery and learning to walk, Sarah returned to school.

"It seemed like everybody was staring at me," she said.

Sarah was assigned to special education teacher Susan Johnson, who soon became a confidante.

"She fought us all the way," Johnson said. "She wasn't supposed to wear a backpack, but she did it anyway."

By her junior year, Sarah attended dances and football games.

"I went to socialize. I felt better, and my best friend made it easier. She made time for me every week," Sarah said. "We talk about boys a lot or how annoying moms can be."

At the start of her senior year, Sarah began feeling back pain.

"I knew the doctors weren't hitting it right, but the MRI wasn't showing anything," her mother, Teresa Roseberry, said.

In April, the scan spotted a tumor in Sarah's spine. She started six rounds of chemotherapy as part of a clinical trial.

"I've had all the radiation I can, so now it's chemo," Sarah said. "I'm staying home as much as possible because last time I had no idea what was going on, between the surgeries and the drugs. I crawled in a shell and wouldn't come out."

Sarah will undergo chemotherapy treatments with four highly toxic drugs. Doctors will extract stem cells from her blood and "blast" her with three times the normal amount of the drugs to kill any cancerous growth.

"It's basically an atomic bomb for your body," Teresa Roseberry said.

Finally, they will replace her stem cells to help foster a healthy immune system.

"She's still in the ballgame," Teresa said.

Sarah said she wants to be rid of the cancer and joked, "I've never thought about giving up because I look forward to the future, and I won't be sad because I'm taking Zoloft."

Since she graduated with a 2.889 average, Sarah plans to apply to Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa. She hopes to be a veterinary technician.

"I've loved animals since I was little. I can't say I love dogs better than cats because I love them both," she said. She spends most of her days watching "Animal Planet," and her favorite show is "Emergency Vets."

Sarah's room is decorated in sponge paint with a butterfly motif. Her fascination began during her hospital stay. She now has butterfly pillows, pictures and collages.

"They're so pretty. It's amazing that they change so much from a worm to something with wings," Sarah said.

Her senior quote came from her butterfly poster: "Change is the essence of life. Be willing to surrender what you are for what you could become."

Sarah said she tries not to think about the cancer.

"I want to be a butterfly and fly free," she said, wearing her purple wig.

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