New Albany News

Teen battles brain cancer with vivacious smile

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She's been called "inspiring" and "humble" but neither word seems to define the courage 15-year-old Victoria Boals displays each day in her fight against an inoperable brain tumor.

At a recent fundraiser at the New Albany Links Golf Club, Victoria said she was thrilled when a 5-year-old boy asked if she really is sick because she looks good and is happy.

"That childhood innocence makes my day," Victoria said. "I always smile and try to be upbeat when I'm in public because I don't want people to look at me and think I'm sick."

If she has to acknowledge some of her limitations, Victoria does it with a smile.

She smiles as she apologizes for turning her head to the right when looking at someone. She has to do that to avoid double vision because the tumor has damaged her left eye.

That position also is better for her to hear because the tumor has caused her left ear to go deaf.

Like many teenagers, she's self-conscious about her weight. But her concern is that she's down to 100 pounds. Nothing tastes right, she said.

She said she misses her hair, which she lost earlier this year. Her hair nearly reached her waist at one point and now is starting to grow back.

She handles even that in stride.

"I'm rocking the (Justin) Bieber 'do,'" she said with a smile.

Victoria said smiling is her solution to the pain.

"You can smile away the pain," she said. "That's my little trick."

It's been her solution since an oncologist told her last September the life expectancy of someone with her childhood brain tumor, a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, is nine to 12 months.

"Fifteen years ago, I was a busy New Albany mom with four healthy children," said Victoria's mother, Jodi Boals. "The pain of cancer from my point of view as a mother is torture: to watch your child go through the tremendous pain and being helpless to do anything.

"It's a world that you don't know about until you're in it."

Victoria's symptoms were similar to many children with a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a tumor that attaches to the brain stem and affects the nervous system.

She felt some paralysis in her right leg and arm.

When one side of her face started to droop and one of her eyes started to change positions, looking more at her nose than straight ahead, doctors found the tumor.

"It's about the size of a golf ball and usually affects kids between 5 and 10," Victoria said. "It's inoperable. It's a killer."

Victoria had six weeks of radiation and started chemotherapy in 2013. She still tried to go to school every other day and complete all of her work.

Boals said she took Victoria to chemotherapy treatments after school and watched her daughter fall asleep at 5 p.m., exhausted by the treatments. She then watched her daughter rise at 4 a.m. to do homework before going to school and starting the day over again.

"School stress and cancer stress don't mix," Victoria said.

Though she was determined to stay in school, Victoria said, her oncologist finally convinced her to scale back. Since she left school in 2013, she has continued her freshman school work with humanities teacher Rachel Bailey tutoring her at home.

"I argued with (the doctors) until I had a breakdown in class and couldn't go back," Victoria said.

Victoria began the school year in Bailey's freshman humanities class.

"After her diagnosis in early September, Victoria still came to school but would often have to leave," Bailey said. "I got to know Victoria better during this time. I found she was a go-getter, a strong-willed girl who loved learning and was too stubborn to let cancer get in her way.

"I knew how important school was to Victoria and I knew there was something special about this girl. I started going to her home a few weeks later for at-home instruction. For the past nine months, I have been spending time with Victoria almost every day after school."

Victoria has always been an overachiever, her mother said, and she retains a 4.0 GPA, even though she's restricted in what she can do.

Victoria said she loves to write, though she can't really use her hands to write anymore, and she loves to play field hockey, a sport she misses.

One passion that she's been able to retain is taking photographs.

"It's always been one of my hobbies," she said. "I have a good eye for it and I've won some contests before for some of my photos."

Victoria displayed 45 of her photographs at GnG Music in New Albany on May 31, selling some and autographing those she sold.

She said no one at GnG music knows her but the store's employees asked if she would like to display her photographs, just one of the many kindnesses she's experienced since her battle began last year.

"In the news you hear about killings and murders, but what you never see is how truly kind people can really be," Victoria said. "People have been wonderful. I've experienced a lot more wonder than bad."

Victoria and her family recently went on a trip to Tahiti, funded by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and her family has been aided by Team Victoria, a group started by Victoria's former field hockey coach, Yvette Peterson, to help pay some of the family's medical bills.

"Team Victoria has chipped away at the gigantic amount of money we owe," Boals said.

She said Peterson told her Team Victoria's goal was to keep the family from mortgaging their home to pay expenses.

"I had no idea what to expect," Boals said. "It's going to be a challenge to have Victoria survive this cancer and have our family come out on the other side without losing our home."

Boals said all of the money raised through that organization and through local fundraisers has helped.

"People have really rallied and put their arms around (Victoria)," Boals said.

For information about Team Victoria, visit nawn.org/team-victoria-donations or the organization's Facebook page.

Bailey said the community has been incredibly kind to Victoria.

"Another cool thing I have seen throughout this whole process is what an incredible community New Albany is," Bailey said. "I do not live in the area so my only experience here has been as a teacher. This community has come behind Victoria and her family and it has been really incredible to witness."

Victoria said she's been helped by so many people she doesn't know.

Team Victoria on May 30 received $4,159.86 of the $15,054.64 New Albany Elementary fourth-graders raised during their annual Entrepreneur Day, part of an economics lesson in which students create products and sell them.

Victoria's cause was chosen by fourth-grader Anna Fellows, who said her older sister, Maddie, is a freshman and knows Victoria. Anna said when she heard Victoria's story she wanted to do something to help.

"She's literally touched more hearts than we really know," Boals said of her daughter.

Bailey said Victoria is changing lives, starting with hers.

"Victoria has brought so much joy to my life," she said. "When I think back on this school year, Victoria is the first thing that comes to mind. Her strength, tenacity and goofiness have taught me more than I could have ever taught her academically. This girl is a special girl and she is definitely leaving her mark on New Albany."

Victoria lives in New Albany with her parents, Brian and Jodi, and two of her three sisters: Amanda, 13, and Brianne, 11. Her oldest sibling, Nikki, graduated from New Albany High School in 2007 and lives in southern California.

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