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Teen Cancer Survivor Awarded Scholarship

August 14, 2000|MIKE McCARTHY

Once they finish high school, most graduates look forward to heading off to college and the beginning of four years of fun and adventure.

But for Jessica Cieslak, this time means so much more.

Jessica, 17, missed more than a year of school after she was diagnosed at 13 with Wilms' tumor, a form of kidney cancer that usually afflicts young children.

The American Cancer Society, as part of a newly established program, has awarded Jessica a $5,000 scholarship for tuition and other college expenses. She plans to major in business at UC Santa Barbara.

"I went to the doctor for another reason," Jessica said of when she was diagnosed. "He looked at my back and saw a bulge in my stomach and suspected it was a tumor."

When caught early, Wilms' tumor is usually curable, but because Jessica was diagnosed so late, the cancer had spread and doctors gave her less than a 50% chance of surviving, said Barbara Cieslak, Jessica's mother.

Once the tumor was removed, Jessica spent a year undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment, and was unable to attend school and do the things most young teenagers do.

"Having the energy to do anything was very difficult," Jessica said.

Since her treatment, the cancer has not returned. And Jessica, always positive, said she doesn't believe the time she spent in treatment and the temporary loss of her her hair were a total waste.

"The cool thing was I didn't like my hairstyle back then anyway, so I got a chance to redo it," she said.

Jessica does not consider herself a hero for beating Wilms' tumor, which afflicts more than 200,000 youngsters nationally.

She would rather just offer advice to people diagnosed with cancer.

"Never give up," she said. "You can live through it and always keep a positive attitude."

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