Sophomore overcomes brain tumor, hopes to help others

October 28, 2009 — by Emily Williams

Most people grow up slowly, experiencing life in small doses: making mistakes and then making them again, until they finally learn. Sophomore Katya Simpson didn’t get that luxury.

It happened quickly. One week last fall Simpson was a regular student. The next she underwent a surgery to remove a life-threatening brain tumor that changed her life forever.

“I used to think I was more of a dreamer, but I’m slightly more realistic now because reality checks like that aren’t meant for 9th graders,” said Simpson. “It was really scary. But I think I’ve grown up a lot. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing but it’s what happened.”

Simpson started to notice symptoms towards the end of 8th grade when she began experiencing bad headaches and nausea. She threw up intermittenly and school drained her of any energy she had left.

“I knew something was wrong, but I figured life would have to go on no matter what it was,” said Simpson.

Life did go on. She wasn’t diagnosed until the beginning of freshman year with a life threatening condition called hydrocephalus, which is pressure inside the brain resulting from a tumor. This condition causes body functions to slowly shut down. In late September, her doctors at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital scheduled an emergency procedure to remove the tumor. The brain surgery happened a day after her diagnosis.

“I don’t really remember what happened, it’s all blurred right now,” said Simpson. “According to my dad, I just laughed and said, let’s get this over with.”

Everything went as planned, and the tumor was successfully removed, but that was just the beginning of Simpson’s long road to recovery.

“When I was in the hospital, I remember being in a lot of pain. I was coming in and out of consciousness,” she said. “It was really scary because I would wake up and have no idea where I was.”

In the hard months of recovery that followed, Simpson was practically immobile, sitting in the same place for hours on end. Simpson wasn’t alone, though; her family and friends rallied behind her, making her 1000 paper cranes, cards and providing support.

“It would have been really hard to come back to school not knowing that there were people there for me,” she said.

Three months after the surgery, Simpson returned to school. She was just another
freshman seemingly like the rest. Inside, Simpson was still trying to make sense of what had happened to her.

“The first couple months after I came back to school, I wasn’t able to look people in the eye because I wasn’t able to understand why I had been chosen out of the lottery to get my life messed up like this said Simpson. “Then one day I realized that this was my life now and it isn’t fair. I hate how unfair it is but I can’t change it.”

Even though Simpson can’t change the events that shaped her life, she still wants to make a difference in the world by chasing her dreams of becoming a neurosurgeon. Last summer, Simpson shadowed at Stanford Hospital in hopes of learning about what she intends to be her future career. Now she has a more permanent position helping out at the administrative office and watching live surgeries once a week.

“If there is any way I could lessen the amount of stories like mine, I would do it; that’s my goal now. I hope to be a hero because of what I will do, not what I have done,” said Simpson.