Michelle Wilson: From Cancer to College

The Podcast:   https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/overcoming-adversity-with-michelle-wilson/id1343829348?i=1000426056128
The Story:

Michelle was a talented tennis player at the young age of 9 years old. She was playing in many tournaments and winning a lot of matches. At this rate, Michelle already had plans to play tennis on her high school team and eventually go to college to play tennis.

At the age of 14, Michelle Wilson was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma Cancer. The softball-sized tumor was found in her right hip, and almost immediately she started chemotherapy treatment.  When that didn't work, she was faced with a decision: keep trying with chemo with the risk of the tumor spreading to the rest of her body and a very low survival percentage... or go into surgery to remove the tumor completely...along with the entire right leg. At age 14, she had to choose her leg or her life.

When Michelle first came out of surgery, one limb short, she first thought that her entire sports career was over for good. As someone who had always been so quick and agile; how was she going to get back to that now?  But two long recovery years later, she finally got back on the court...in a wheelchair. And once she realized that she didn't have to give up her dream of playing tennis in college, nothing was going to stop her! 

In fact, she has just recently been accepted as a part of Team USA's Wheelchair Tennis Team! She will play for them in tournaments and hopefully, make her way into a future Paralympics.

The Need:
Michelle Wilson has been accepted into the University of Arizona to play on the Wheelchair Tennis team - Class of 2023

And though, she has received an athletic scholarship to attend college, being an out-of-state student still leaves a lot of expenses!  

Each semester is estimated to cost $53,950 ($215,800 for 4 years!)

Not including:
-school supply items
-travel between home in Pigeon Forge, TN & Tuscon, AZ
-extracurricular activities & clubs
-dorm items

The athletic scholarship has awarded $80,000 for all 4 years which will leave our family funding ~ $135,800 left (not including above items).

Michelle would greatly appreciate any donations towards her education so she can focus 100% on her studies and sports. She will be pursuing a Bachelors in Psychology and then a Masters in order to become a Pediatric therapist to help young children get through the battle that is cancer, just like she did!

Our goal is to be able to cover the rest of the costs of tuition and the additional expenses that out-of-state college will bring for Michelle! Anything that you give is so greatly appreciated by her and her family. 

Thank you so much for reading!

The Newspaper Stories:

Michelle's Story from Her Point of View:

"When I was younger, I didn’t know much about what cancer was besides what I had seen from commercials and drama shows. But once those thirty seconds or minutes passed, it was easy to go on with my day. I never even thought twice about it. I was just a kid after all. The world was still rainbows and sunshine to me. The day my world crashed around me feels as if it was just yesterday. I was only fourteen years old when I found out that I had the horrible 6 letter word: C-A-N-C-E-R. I remember waiting on a chair in a bare hallway, while doctors talked to my parents inside the room next to me. It was the day we were finding out if the softball-sized tumor in my right hip was benign or cancerous. When I finally entered the room, I scanned my mom’s face, trying to read her thoughts and emotions. The doctor started speaking but once I heard the word “cancer”, every word after came out slurred to me. I sat there frozen in my seat as he started to go over in detail the next six months of my life and the plan for getting rid of the tumor. I could barely take it all in. As we were walking out of the hospital, it was slowly hitting me. It had felt like someone had taken all my future plans and dreams and smashed them into a million pieces. I couldn’t help but drop to the ground and burst out crying. My time as a young teenager was ripped out of my hands because I knew I had to grow up fast and actually fight for my life.

However, this disease didn’t affect just me. It was an explosion that affected everyone around me too. My dad was especially upset as he sat home alone with the thoughts that his little girl was fighting for her life. My older sister was just finishing her first year at Carson Newman University before she decided to transfer to back to Walters State to keep him some company at home. My uncle slept with his phone next to his pillow because anytime I had a late-night fever, he had to rush my mom and me to the hospital. My mom took on the full-time job of taking care of me at the hospital. For weeks she was distracted with medicines, treatments, and little comforts for me. She watched over me five to six days a week for eight long months. She had a front row seat to how sick I got from chemo treatments, all the hair falling out, and every time I just wanted to give up. I will always think my mom is the strongest person ever. I never once saw her cry in front of me. It was only when she thought that I was sleeping that she let the tears out. By being strong for me, she made me stronger.

Towards the end of my eight-month long chemotherapy treatments, I remember lying in bed still feeling absolutely horrible from the latest chemo flush. My mom sat next to me in a chair, holding my hand. I looked at her and told her that I was done with chemo. I couldn’t take being sick anymore, so they’d just have to cut off my leg. At this, my mom began to cry. A week before, the doctors had told her that chemotherapy wasn’t working and that amputation was the only other option. I asked my doctor that if I were to go through with the amputation, what was the percentage of living and she told me that it wasn’t exact, but it was high. Then I asked her what would happen if I didn’t do it. She said it would have only been a matter of time before the cancer spread and that I could die within months. So, at age fifteen, I made the decision to amputate my entire right leg in order to save my life.

 The surgery happened two weeks after my fifteenth birthday and lasted four hours. When I finally woke up, I found that my leg and the cancer was gone. That moment began the long, tough journey to get back to some sort of normalcy in my life again. I had to go to physical therapy for two months to re-learn how to stand, balance, and walk with crutches. I worked hard to get back to feeling “normal”, but I don’t think I ever felt like I was there until my dad found wheelchair tennis. Pre-cancer, I had played tennis since I was nine years old. I loved the sport and had thought I had said goodbye forever when my leg was taken off. I gave wheelchair tennis a chance, dusted off my old rackets, got a wheelchair specially designed to whip around the court, and slowly began to get the hang of it.

 It’s now been four years post-surgery and I’m in my third season playing at least one out-of-state tournament a month. I am beyond proud to say I’ve made it to number one in Woman's A Singles and Doubles and number three in Men's B Doubles.  As well as just recently added to TEAM USA's Wheelchair tennis team. I’m not as good as I was with two legs... I’m even better than I was before. I want to start volunteering at Knoxville's Children Hospital, the one I spent time at, this upcoming summer. I can talk to kids who will be experiencing the same bone cancer as me and help them with getting through it. In the fall, I will be going to the University of Arizona to play on their top-rated wheelchair tennis team. I also hope to get my bachelor’s degree in clinical therapy, so I can help children during and after that horrible six letter word. C-A-N-C-E-R has affected my family and me in all sorts of ways, and I may never really be the same as I was before, but in the end, we are the Wilsons, and we don’t let anything stop us from reaching our goals."

*Tennis photos by Emily Cullum*
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Vanessa Wilson
Sevierville, TN

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