In just a few short weeks, Sydni Gajewski of Pottstown, PA, will be graduating college. And, while graduating college is a an amazing achievement for any person, for Sydni, this accomplishment is even more sweet given the challenges she faces daily from a diagnosis and removal of a brain tumor at age 6. Sydni deals with long term effects including short term memory issues, susceptibility to typical illnesses that require longer recovery time and difficulty managing emotions.
But Sydni doesn’t let any of those things hold her back — a few moments with her and its evident that she is a girl that stands up to challenges head on.
In 2001, what was thought to be a lazy eye turned out to be a craniopharyngioma brain tumor detected during a routine school vision test. Craniopharyngiomas are rare solid and cystic tumors that grow slowly in the pituitary/hypothalamic region and tends to put pressure on the optic nerve. Vision abnormalities can usually be one of the first symptoms. The survival rate of this tumor is high but the long term co-morbities can negatively contribute to the patient’s long term quality-of-lfe.
Sydni said one of the biggest issues she remembers after tumor removal was struggles adjusting at school and managing her emotions. She says she cried..a lot. In high school, she faced challenges of bullying because of her weight. Weight gain is a common side effect of tumor removal due to disruption of the endocrine system.
“I took it upon myself to do the best that I can do," said Sydni. "That attitude has got me to where I am today. Challenging myself has helped me grow in many ways."
Its been 17 years since diagnosis and treatment and, in May, Sydni will celebrate graduation from Alvernia University with a degree in healthcare science with a minor in art. She is applying for a masters in organizational leadership and plans a career in working with homeless and underprivileged people. Her desire to help others may have been inspired by those who have helped her. She attributes her success and ability to cope to those in her support network - teachers, friends, therapists, her boyfriend and her therapy cat, but above all, mom.
“My mom is my rock,” she stated.
When asked what she would tell other survivors who are faced with similar challenges, she says:
"This was your deck of cards before you were born. It is all going to work out how its supposed to — its in God’s hands. I thank God every day I am able to do what I do."