Nausea. Recurring fatigue. Unbearable cramps. Constant trips to the hospital for chemotherapy can drain, discourage and beat down anybody.
Now imagine dealing with the unwanted pity from your peers and personal demons that one may potentially experience with the horrifying diagnosis of brain cancer.
Now picture being a 15 year old honor student and athlete when you hear your doctor bring the news of your diagnosis.
Dalja Parks was a sophomore at San Marcos High School (SMHS) when she went into Rady Children’s Hospital for surgery on a suprasellar juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma, a benign tumor located on the optic nerve. In order for Parks to get the entire tumor removed she would have to sacrifice her eyesight.
“It was definitely scary for me and my family when I had to get surgery, but their support to this day means so much to me,” Parks said.
As a standout student at SMHS, Parks juggled AP classes, soccer and softball until she could not play anymore.
“I had to stop playing sports once my chemo started, but my teachers were super accommodating about my assignments,” Parks explained.
Following her surgery, Parks was transferred to Kaiser Permanente San Diego Medical Center, where she had regular chemotherapy appointments for nearly 18 months.
Carrying into the start of her senior year, Parks was not discouraged. With the support of her family, she went on to win the Knight of the Year award in her 2017 graduating class for outstanding academic and morale achievement. She is now a second-year pre-medical student at the University of California San Diego (UCSD).
“I want to go on to medical school and become a pediatric doctor. I think some of my doctors over the years definitely inspired me to want to help other kids like me,” Parks said.
With another milestone in sight for Parks’ recovery, she continues to help in her community and maintain her impressive scholarly achievements.
“I’m about 4 weeks away from finishing my second round of chemo,” Parks said.
Before attending UCSD in the fall 2018 quarter, Parks received a scholarship from Cancer for College, a nonprofit organization that has helped over 1,400 students over its 25 year history pay for their education.
“I’ve made some great friends with the other scholarship recipients. They know better than anyone what I’ve been through, so it’s great to have their support,” Parks explained.
The scholarship helps cover the costs for school. Over $3 million has been awarded in the organization’s history. Their website features an archive of each recipient, their university and their chosen field of study.
“I’m a Human Biology major. I think physiology has been the most enjoyable course I’ve taken so far, but I’m looking forward to taking Genetics soon,” Parks said.
While she is still dealing with the painful side effects of weekly chemotherapy, she has sustained the superb academic achievement, she has not been able to maintain the active, adventurous lifestyle that she once enjoyed.
“Because of the chemo, I can’t be as active as I would like to be.” Parks said. “Once I’m done, I’m hoping to get into intramural softball or soccer, or maybe trying something new.”
Parks is not one to sit around and binge Netflix all day, she prefers going on hikes or playing sports.
All of these activities are limited or unavailable while Parks is undergoing treatment. With her specific condition, the cancer can never be fully removed, unless she were to sacrifice her vision. So Parks presses on with her regimen.
“When it comes to trying something new, I never doublethink my chances because I never know when I’ll get a chance to do it again,” Parks said.
As her current treatment schedule comes to relieving halt, Parks anticipates the ability to seize whatever opportunities come her way.
“I can’t travel as much as I’d like to, but if the right classes are available, I would love to study abroad next fall,” Parks said.