Kawartha Lakes teen remains upbeat despite brain cancer battle

Click to play video: 'Family fundraises as Omemee teen battles cancerous brain tumour'
Family fundraises as Omemee teen battles cancerous brain tumour
WATCH: An Omemee, Ont., teen is battling a cancerous brain tumour. The 16-year-old's family is asking for help as expenses continue to take a toll. – Jul 25, 2023

It took an accidental fall for a Kawartha Lakes teenager to finally discover that a cancerous brain tumour was the cause of her frequent illness for the past two years.

Doctors initially cited puberty and hormonal changes for the struggles endured by Angela Brooks, 16, of the village of Omemee. She was often tired, was losing weight and was drinking fluids excessively.

But a fall while playing with her siblings injured her back. Subsequent X-rays discovered a mass on her brain.

An MRI and biopsy at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto determined the mass was a cancerous tumour.

“I was surprised — I thought it might have been some scar tissue from concussions I have had while playing sports,” said Angela. “It was definitely difficult before we knew the severity of it.”

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Click to play video: 'Super Sophia Project delivers 50 smiles to kids at SickKids Hospital'
Super Sophia Project delivers 50 smiles to kids at SickKids Hospital

The tumour in the brain’s suprasellar region has destroyed her pituitary gland which produces hormones to control metabolism, growth, blood pressure and more.

However, doctors have assured the teen that chemotherapy and radiation treatments should lead to a good prognosis.

“I think once we found out how serious the cancer was, I felt more optimistic about it,” said Angela. “The doctors said they could easily deal with it but that the road would be tough but it would be something manageable.”

That road to recovery began in April and has included visits to Sick Kids for a dozen rounds of chemotherapy. Up next are three weeks of radiation treatment.

Prior to her chemotherapy, Angela and her family got together to shave their heads in unity.

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“I decided I wanted my dad to shave it off,” she said. “So we did a thing where he shaved my brother’s, I shaved his and he shaved mine. My mom got her haircut with it shaved on the sides. And we did a family photo which was cool.

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“I feel it would have made me upset seeing my hair falling out and finding it in random places. I enjoyed shaving it off rather than seeing it falling out.”

Angela’s mother Ashley Wood said the diagnosis was a “relief” but also “scary” after initially hoping the tumour was benign.

“We’ve been OK — it has been a long, last four months,” said Wood. “An emotional journey … we’ve been sticking together and doing well.”

Wood has been off work acting as a caregiver since the chemotherapy began. Angela’s father Dave takes time off in between work as an electrician.

“To us, it just meant the road to recovery was going to be a lot harder,” said Wood. “We just take it day by day. We have never gone through this before. It’s definitely scary. Some days she is good, some days she is not.”

Click to play video: 'Grade 5 student writes book on her cancer journey to help others'
Grade 5 student writes book on her cancer journey to help others

In June, Angela was informed the tumour was shrinking. However,  earlier this month she was admitted to the Peterborough Regional Health Centre after falling ill due to the last round of chemo. She spent two weeks in care before she was able to return home, putting her treatment schedule off-track after her blood cell count took longer than usual to recover.

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“It’s been a little chaotic — everything is day-by-day,” said Angela. “But other than that, all the support from my family and friends and community has definitely helped a lot. It’s been going pretty well other than getting sick.”

That support includes a GoFundMe page created by her uncle Mat Wood to help support the family’s expenses while travelling and staying in Toronto. To date, more than $14,000 has been raised.

“We’ve been very grateful for everyone who has helped so far,” said Ashley. “Our community has been amazing. The church, the school have been great. GoFundMe has been great.”

Click to play video: 'Researchers develop new brain cancer chemotherapy that doesn’t kill healthy cells'
Researchers develop new brain cancer chemotherapy that doesn’t kill healthy cells

The American Brain Tumour Association says with proper treatment, the five-year survival rate for germ cell tumours is 96.8 per cent for people between the ages of 15 to 39.

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“To have cancer — it was the best type of cancer you could have, if you know what I mean,” said Angela. “That definitely helped us cope through it all.”

Her mother remains cautiously optimistic while remaining positive for her daughter and family.

“I have no choice — I have to keep my whole family together,” she said. “My worst fear is that it’s not going to be totally gone and it will be a longer road than we anticipated. So fingers crossed that doesn’t happen.

“The thing I worry about most is making sure Angela is OK emotionally and mentally — we can’t really do much for her physically. As long as she’s happy, that’s the most important part.”

Angela says the toughest part of her recovery is being unable to do the “normal” things such as attending school, dirt biking, playing sports including rep basketball with the Lindsay Wildcats and even getting a summer job due to her frequent unavailability.

She’s hopeful to get back on track, complete high school and eventually pursue a career as a lawyer.

“I feel pretty happy and grateful that I have family and friends that can help me to kind of forget about what I’m going through, almost,” said Angela. “So that’s definitely good.

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“To any families going through this, just stick together. It really helps,” she added. “When you have family, friends and a community to back you up, that’s a good thing.”

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