Unstoppable Mary is Back in the Marching Band After Surviving Two Brain Tumors

One month into her first year of high school, Mary was diagnosed with two brain tumors. Her parents turned to the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s for nationally-ranked care, and this unstoppable teen never missed a beat.

2022 Miracle Child Mary smiling in a park

Surviving two brain tumors—all while maintaining straight A’s in high school—would qualify anyone for hero status. But for Mary, it was just another extraordinary milestone in a life that began as a miracle. 

Born prematurely at 31 weeks, Mary spent 33 days in the neonatal intensive care unit. In those first weeks, she developed a reputation for being a fighter—even earning a special nickname from the NICU nurses. “Her middle name was Francis, so they called her ‘Feisty Francis’ because she was a fighter, even as a little three-pound baby,” her dad, Whitney, says. 

Fourteen years later, Mary would have to draw on that feisty spirit once more. 

It was one month into her first year of high school when Mary’s parents started to notice that something was a little off. Mary seemed tired and lethargic all the time. She wasn’t eating as much, and when she did, she had a hard time keeping any food down. When her mom, Kery, picked her up from marching band practice, she found Mary marching with a sweatshirt on, freezing even though it was 95 degrees out.

When Mary finally spoke up to say she couldn’t see anything out of her left eye, Whitney, who also happens to be a doctor, knew something was very wrong. Kery took Mary straight to the emergency room at Children’s, where two tumors were discovered. Mary began emergency chemotherapy immediately. 

“Dr. Janss happened to be on call, which was a blessing because she’s the most incredible doctor in the world, and she’s the most experienced with this type of tumor—not just at Children’s, but probably in the United States. Maybe even the world,” Whitney says. 

Even in the thick of her illness, Mary was the one reassuring her mom. Kery says, “She would literally be at her weakest moment and sick, and I’d come running and try to help her. But she would just wipe her mouth off and say, ‘I’m fine…I feel better now.’ She constantly, even at her worst, was just very positive and I think that has played a huge role in her care and how she’s handled it.”

Neuro-oncologist Anna Janss, MD, who treated Mary, also took notice of how special she is. “She’s just so loveable, and she just shoots for the moon. Nothing stops her,” she says.

Mary is indeed unstoppable. She has completed treatment, and her first set of scans came back clear. She even got her full vision back—an incredibly rare occurrence. She’s back at school. She’s as active in clubs and marching band as she was before her diagnosis, and was chosen by her peers to be the homecoming representative for the 10th grade. 

Mary describes Children’s as “a place where we can get better and where we can learn from other people and make new friends.”

She also has some words of encouragement for other kids out there who are hoping for miracles of their own. “Even though it seems so bad right now, you’ve just got to believe and pray and love on your loved ones, and they’ll help you get through that hard time,” she says. “Even when it seems like it’s impossible, you’ve just got to believe in yourself.”

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Childhood should be happy and carefree, not burdened by cancer. At the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, we provide outstanding clinical care to help kids with cancer get back to being kids.

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