A never-ending fight

Senior Brittany Greenawald fights for a cure after her own battle with brain cancer


UNENDING SUPPORT: Greenawald (back row, second from left) poses with her Noah’s Ark coworkers, some of who have braided their hair to the side in support of Greenawald’s battle with brain cancer. Submitted

Story by Cori Picard, Staff Writer

Brittany Greenawald’s journey has been a long one.

While most students may be stressed over final projects and exams, Greenawald, a double major in elementary and special education, is more concerned with staying alive. It has been 10 months since Greenawald had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in her brain, and she’s plagued with painful side effects that take a toll on her daily life.

“I’ve had to ask professors for extensions, sometimes I’m not able to get to class,” Greenawald said. “But I’m a pretty stubborn girl, so I’m really determined to not miss class.”

Greenawald’s battle with brain cancer started last May while working as a lifeguard at Noah’s Ark in Wisconsin Dells. She said her friends and coworkers noticed she had a loss of coordination, as well as severe bruising on her knees, hips and arms. Greenawald was suffering from two to three migraines daily.

After a visit to the emergency room, doctors advised Greenawald to see her doctor at home in Green Bay. When she returned home in June, a CT scan revealed her brain was bleeding, and an MRI showed a tumor doctors thought could be precancerous. She immediately met with a brain surgeon, and surgery was scheduled for June 26.

“I was a little scared, I was a little worried about not waking up because there was a chance of that,” Greenawald said, “but I’m a strong Christian, so I knew it was in God’s hands, and if it was time for me to go home, it was time for me to go home.”

Greenawald underwent a six-hour surgery to remove the tumor, which was about the size of two to three grapes. She said she had 30 staples and over 60 stitches. The scar runs from the base of her neck to the top of her head on her right side.

She spent four days in the Intensive Care Unit and on July 3, doctors told her the news. It was stage 1 brain cancer, but they believed they removed it all.

“I definitely cried, it was hard to hear,” Greenawald said. “My dad was diagnosed with a heart disease when I was a little girl, and at that time, it was a life-threatening thing, so I kind of felt like, ‘why me?’ It felt unfair almost.”

But getting through surgery was only the beginning for Greenawald. She spent a month and a half in therapy, relearning to walk, which she said was an exhausting task.

“The tumor was on the muscle control area of my brain, so I actually had to learn the difference between walking on grass and walking on a hard floor.”

She also suffered with vision problems after surgery. She had triple vision consistently, but it eventually turned into double vision and then finally, single vision. She also said it was normal for her to vomit 20 to 30 times a day.

But Greenawald was determined to return to work, so with perseverance, she convinced her doctors to let her return to Wisconsin Dells in the beginning of August.

She had trouble though, and couldn’t get back in the water at Noah’s Ark. With her skull still open, she was not allowed to swim. Diving and head injuries were also concerns, but Greenawald was able to work three to five hours a day as long as she didn’t get overheated and got plenty of rest.

“My doctors said I needed eight to 10 hours of sleep at night, plus three to four-hour naps every day,” Greenawald said. “I’d wake up, work for a few hours, and then come home and nap. I would see my friends for a little bit at night, and then go to sleep and do it all over again.”

Now, looking forward to graduation in December after student-teaching in the fall, Greenawald still suffers from migraines, about three to six a week, plus numbness in her legs and blurred vision. She said she’s very sensitive to sound and light during her migraines, but she makes accommodations so she can attend class.

“It’s not uncommon to see me in class with sunglasses and earmuffs on,” she said, “so when my professors see me, they’ll say, ‘Brittany, you can go home if you want,’ and I’ll say, ‘No, I’m fine.’”

Greenawald’s determination to keep up in school does not go unnoticed. Rosemary Battalio, department chair for the special education department, said Greenawald’s strength is awe-inspiring.

“She really wants to be a teacher, this is her lifelong dream and she’s going to do it,” Battalio said. “She’s doing everything she can to keep up, I have not seen any kind of slacking off in her work.”

Greenawald said she uses her dream of becoming a teacher and working with children as a way to keep going.

“I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl, so I’m really fighting for my future,” Greenawald said. “I’m fighting for my future students.”

Greenawald has become a model of strength and hope to her peers, including Battalio.

“She is my role model,” Battalio said. “I look at this young lady who is at the beginning of her life as a teacher, and the fact that she has this kind of determination humbles me.”

But Greenawald’s roommate and friend, Ashley Treder, said she knows first-hand Greenawald has her bad days, but she always picks herself up.

“There are days that it’ll just hit her,” Treder said. “But she knows who to talk to, and everyone’s so willing to give her the help she needs. I don’t know how she does it.”

Greenawald is currently involved in a different kind of fight. She said she’s determined to help find a cure for brain cancer. She’s done several fundraising events for the American Brain Tumor Association, including selling T-shirts and bracelets. She’s raised over $100, which will go toward research efforts and support for affected families. She’s scheduled to speak at this year’s Relay for Life as well.

Greenawald said her passion for reaching out and spreading awareness stems more from her great-grandfather’s diagnosis with brain cancer than her own.

“He was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer and he went really fast,” Greenawald said. “It was really hard to watch, especially since I was going through my own experiences with brain cancer at the time.”

Right now, Greenawald is cancer-free, but she must go five years cancer-free to be considered in remission. Every three months, she returns to Green Bay for MRI’s. Every three weeks, Greenawald checks in with her doctor, and starting soon, she’ll see a specialist every two months to control her migraines and headaches.

Greenawald said she considers herself a fighter, and she’ll continue to fight as long as she can. She said she wants to inspire others with the disease to fight, as well.

“I want to tell people battling this disease that they can’t give up hope,” she said. “I know that it’s a rough road and there are a lot of challenges that other people can’t quite understand, and it’s scary, but you have to fight. Fight, fight, fight.”