Molly Oldham is BSNCF “2021 Thriver of the Year!” Read her incredible story of purpose and she is using her diagnosis to make a difference.
I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Brain Cancer (Anaplastic Ependymoma) in August of 2019 at the age of 18, on the day I was supposed to leave for college (UNC Greensboro, BFA Musical Theater). I had surgery to remove a tennis ball size tumor, had thirty three sessions of Proton Radiation and months of intensive rehabilitation. I suffered from seizures and migraines as a full time student but returned home due to COVID-19 and was declared cancer free in June 2020. In January of 2021, after suffering from nausea and debilitating migraines, I rescheduled a previously cancelled (due to the pandemic) MRI, where the scans showed two new tumors. Since I had radiation less than eighteen months prior, my doctors recommended surgery with no post op treatments. The plan was to wait for another recurrence in order to give time between radiations. We opted for second, third, fourth and fifth opinions which landed me at Duke Medical. I was able to have surgery within seventeen days from relapse, and thankfully I did because the tumors grew from the size of a small pea and blueberry to the size of two large grapes in seventeen days. After surgery, I had 10 rounds of aggressive Stereotactic Radiosurgery as well as chemo and immunotherapy. The risky and bold treatment really knocked me out but I believe saved my life as well. I will be getting my scans on January 5th 2022, one year from the day of relapse.
I am a Musical Theater major at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. I have always been a singer but now my voice has purpose advocating for Pediatric Cancer families in terms of fundraising, building awareness and educating other families on how to advocate for themselves in the medical environment. I am very active on social media to bridge the gap of my peers. I feel that the 18-24 age group is very underrepresented in terms of resources and in advocacy therefore I use my social media as a vehicle to build awareness. I also like being a peer to peer mentor as well. I believe that the best source of comfort I have had is to connect with other warriors that are my age because there is an understanding like no other.
I find purpose in being able to articulate what an AYA, adolescent young adult, feels going through cancer and the treatments and am humbled to be a voice for those who do not want or cannot speak. By connecting with AYA with cancer, I can share their stories, which helps with awareness, that leads to funding which ultimately leads to a cure. I have been lucky to have a platform on social media because of my singing, which has given me opportunities to meet people who are action oriented. I feel that I am relatable because of my age and my vulnerability when I speak.
I am told that I have a “rare” cancer. It is not “rare” when it happens to you. We have met too many families for Brain Cancer to be brushed off as rare. I will fight and advocate for Brain Cancer for as long as I live. I keep educated about Brain Cancer by reading. I am active on social media so many people share information with me as well. My mom is active on many of the FaceBook pages for parents and caregivers, and we spend one hour every night discussing different treatment plans, options, resources, scholarships, grants, fundraising opportunities. We both also reach out to families that are just beginning their journey with a list of resources they should sign up for or look into. We work closely with certain Foundations local and national, who share with us information that we can share as well. I am very proud of the relationships we have made both on the teaching, and the learning end of things. I am asked to be part of panels and boards so before a public speaking assignment I get, I research the facts and ask for help where needed. I want to be credible and resourceful, so I am not afraid to ask for help and confirmation of facts.
I have been so lucky to be invited to sing at Cancer Fundraisers across the country to share my story and talk about the lack of funding of pediatric cancer. I have been invited to sing at multiple NHL Hockey Fights Cancer Nights, a variety of Fundraising Galas from Utah to DC and participated in many virtual fundraisers from Hands For Holly to Cancer For College and My Hometown Heroes. I have also helped with the Duke Children’s Telethon which raised over a half a million dollars. I can say I have not done all of this on my own.
My older sister is a Child Life Specialist at Riley Children’s in Indianapolis. My younger sister is a Biomedical Illustrator. I believe a prepared speaker not only knows what to say, but they also know when they need help to prepare. I have the full support of my sisters and mom, as well as doctors and nurses. My superpower that I gained by having cancer, is knowing when I cannot do something myself. I am so lucky to have my sisters in my corner. We have found how difficult it is to be a sibling of someone who has a chronic illness like cancer. When the spotlight is on the patient, a dark shadow can be cast on the siblings and it hard to balance.
We hope we can shine a light on the need for resources and care for siblings through sharing our story. I am a dreamer. I know it takes more than a dream to find a cure. This is important enough for me to listen to others and what they have to offer. My doctors and nurses at Duke taught me that. If they didn’t challenge what my other doctors had said, I wouldn’t be here today.
I feel that sharing my story can make people uncomfortable sometimes, and that’s okay. That’s why my family and I have started a Fund called TMI, THE MOLLY IMPACT, to help cancer warriors aged 18-24. We have found that this is a very underrepresented aged group, too old for wishes, too young to be independent. This find is found at Stewarts Caring Place, a local cancer resource center in my hometown of Akron Ohio. For more information, go to www.mollyoldham.com
More recently, I have been working with www.StacheStrong.org. Colin Gerner and I met when we were both on ABCs, the VIEW. He lost his older brother GJ to brain cancer. He raises money and gives it directly to doctors with promising and innovative brain cancer research projects. My mom and I help with #brewstachestrong and our efforts will benefit the Researchers at Duke Medical where my life was saved. Just this week, a $150K grant was presented to Duke and we are thrilled to have been a part of that.
I am honored to be the BSNCF Thriver of the Year. It means so much to me to be recognized as a survivor but to be recognized as a Thriver is really awe inspiring in itself. I am also humbled that I was nominated by my sister. That means the world to me. We have been through this together and I love that we can share in this honor.
Thank you so much for this opportunity to serve along side other cancer warriors, survivors, and thrivers.