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Given just 18 months to live, teen is now cancer free and working to help others

Now back in school, this October Victoria Boals was voted Homecoming Queen (courtesy: Boals family)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX/WTTE) - After a shocking pediatric cancer diagnosis a central Ohio teen beat the odds, and proved her determination to become "the first survivor". Victoria Boals is also standing by her declaration to give back to other pediatric cancer patients.

Boals was able to take a Make-A-Wish trip to Tahiti with her family while she was still fighting cancer. Now, just months past her latest surgery, the high school senior is working to help send another young fighter on a dream trip.

Reporter Alissa Henry first met Victoria Boals three years ago, and was immediately impacted by her:

THE BACKSTORY

I met Victoria Boals in May of 2013.

Our meteorologist Bill Kelly had reached out to me about an event he was attending on a Sunday afternoon. At the time, I was the Sunday morning feature reporter on Good Day Columbus and always looking for a fun, family-friendly event to highlight on the show.

I read the description of the “Team Victoria 5K” happening that day and learned that the person being honored was a pediatric cancer patient. Victoria was diagnosed with DIPG (Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma) a highly aggressive and difficult to treat brain tumor found at the base of the brain. I knew this going in, but I didn’t really know it and I definitely didn’t know what to expect.

The Team Victoria 5K took place on a gorgeous Sunday, May 18th morning in 2013. The sun was shining, people - mostly New Albany HS students and some parents - were milling about, signing up for the 5K and setting up for the auction to be held later that day.

Victoria’s mom, Jodi Boals, (who was on the verge of tears the entire morning, which was both understandable and heart wrenching) told me they had to move the event up from the planned Fall date because Victoria wasn’t supposed to make it past that September. This revelation was when reality really set in for me. I couldn’t believe how sad this was.

When Victoria arrived, she thanked me profusely for being there and was more than willing to talk on camera. She was noticeably upbeat and she repeatedly told me she was going to fight this battle and be “the first survivor”.

I remember calling my husband between live segments in tears because I found the entire situation so heartbreaking. I explained that I was featuring a community event where everyone was raising money so that when Victoria dies, her parents wouldn’t be stuck with enormous medical bills on top of grieving their deceased daughter. It was just too much.

My mom, watching online from Georgia, sensed the weight of the morning. She texted me and told me that the only thing I could do was pray and believe with Victoria that she in fact wouldn’t die. I had to believe something, my husband reminded me, so I may as well believe God that Victoria would somehow survive this.

Don’t get me wrong, I was honored to tell Victoria’s story. But still for months afterward, I remembered that morning as the saddest event I ever “featured”.

I followed “Team Victoria” Facebook page with bated breath knowing that inevitably the announcement of her passing would hit my newsfeed.

As months turned into years, I followed every update. To my absolute delight, I confirmed via Facebook that Victoria was STILL ALIVE. There were lots of ups and downs documented there. She was having surgeries, the tumor stabilized, then it grew and everything in between.

I would give my mom and my husband the updates because they were nearly as emotionally invested as I was, despite having never even met her.

Fast forward approximately two years later to just a few weeks ago and Keara Bingham, the woman who had helped me set up the initial feature story, reached out to me and told me that Victoria was CANCER. FREE.

I could hardly believe it. This girl I met back in May of 2014 that had 0% chance of survival had in fact, fought her cancer, and won. Just like she said she would! Victoria Boals had enduring hope in spite of an absolutely hopeless situation. That hope was rewarded with healing.

Victoria was treated at Nationwide Children's Hospital and she emphasized how well she was treated by the doctors, nurses and staff. "I loved Children's. I have to say they are a great hospital. They're all super cute. All their stuff, their little caterpillars and stuff. It's not that great to be in the hospital but they definitely try their best, the nurses, are nice and happy and therapist are great and the doctors are all great."

Just this week, I talked to her surgeon Dr. Eric Sribnick via email about Victoria. Here's what he had to say:

“Victoria is a dynamic young lady with a tumor in a bad location. Her disease is located in the brainstem, which is a small portion of the brain with critical functions.
The risks for surgery in a location like this are quite serious and include: irreversible changes to the patient's ability to control the eyes and the face, inability to properly speak or swallow, paralysis, and even permanent coma.
In a situation where some people might give up, she and her family have never hesitated in their struggle against this disease. I feel quite fortunate to be doing what I do. I care for my patients as though they are my own children.
Victoria has made a huge impact in my life and my early career as a surgeon. For example, last Spring, between her two surgeries, she was gracious enough to shave my head for a St. Baldrick's cancer fundraiser.
I feel quite fortunate to have met Victoria and even more fortunate to have her and her parents’ trust as one of her treating physicians.”

Keara also wanted me to know that now, Victoria was doing something big for someone else - hosting a 5K event to raise money for another cancer patient named Justin living in New Albany to grant his wish to attend Disney World with his family.

I definitely couldn’t pass up the chance to do this story.

What started out as the saddest story I’d ever done, turned into the most heartwarming - by far.

Today, Victoria is a senior at New Albany High School and lives in New Albany with her parents and two sisters. Her older sister lives in California.

She hopes to attend UNC Chapel Hill and major in biology.

After meeting Jodi during the 5K, I couldn't wait to talk to her again now that her daughter was cancer free. Needless to say, she was all smiles this time! Jodi is working on a book about her experience. During our interview, I asked her if she had a message for other parents. I’ve pasted her answer in its entirety below:

The most common thing that everybody asks me is how do you do it? How do you do it? But my thing is, I'm not extraordinary. I'm not any different than any other mom that adores their children and takes care of them and is there for them and wants the best for them. I am not any different from any of those moms.
I tell them, "You would do it too. You would do exactly what I'm doing. You would have all of the emotions all across the board that I am having and you would stand by your child and you would be there for them. You would clean up their throw up when they were throwing up. You will dress them because they don't have the strength to dress themselves. You will bathe them. You will brush their teeth. You will do everything and anything you have to do if you were in my shoes and had what I call it a teenager that has become a baby. That's another thing. If you're a mother of a teenager who has been doing these things for many many years, you would go right back to taking care of that child as if it was your newborn baby.
I don't have anything special that anybody else doesn't have inside of them if they were going to get a child diagnosed with cancer. I'm not special. Victoria is. Victoria is very special.”

Victoria is a survivor.

Sign up for the "Finish for a Wish" 5K run/walk. It's happening at 9am on Sunday October 23rd at Eagle Stadium in New Albany, OH.

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