Extraordinary Del Oro grads offer inspiration

By: Elizabeth Speth, Loomis News Correspondent
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Six Del Oro High School graduates have shown extraordinary courage and perseverance on their way to earning a diploma. “Warriors” is what Assistant Principal Bridget Farren calls these young women, who each overcame medical and personal crises to triumph “the eagle way” – with lots of help from teachers, counselors, and fellow students. Alexis Costa When Alexis Costa, 18, arrived at Del Oro as a freshman, she was reeling from a disease that robbed her of her identity as an athlete. “I had big plans to do sports in high school,” said Alexis, who in seventh grade was diagnosed with malignant bone cancer Ewing sarcoma. “I played soccer, basketball, I ran track. Then this horrible knee pain wouldn’t go away,” Alexis said. She endured a complete knee replacement and 18 months of chemotherapy before high school. “I was just this new kid with really short hair and a big scar, but no one knew why. It was really hard not to be the person I thought I was going to be coming in,” Alexis said. Taking a sports medicine class at Farren’s urging, Alexis became a student trainer for the school’s athletic programs. “Instead of being the one to get the glory in sports, I decided I would be the one who helped others,” she said. “She assisted the trainers, did the scheduling, supported the athletes. She kept the drama down,” Farren said. In her senior year, Alexis switched her focus to leadership. She joined Wings, became an ASB officer, and a peer helper. She founded SMILE, Students Making It a Little Easier. “SMILE is for students who don’t feel connected to Del Oro. We reach out and find kids who are falling through the cracks,” said Alexis, who will attend Calvary Bible College in the fall. Ceirra and Alicia Foster Ceirra Foster, 18 and her twin sister, Alicia, also had serious health problems, and relied on support from teacher and peers. “I’ve had health issues my whole life,” said Ceirra, a disciplined gymnast and student, and veteran of five surgeries. When she was 8, doctors found calcified growths on her thyroid, which were eventually removed. Ceirra took medication to replicate the thyroid’s role. In tenth grade, a body scan revealed several more tumors. She had to stop taking thyroid medication for two months before undergoing radiation therapy. “That was a bad period. I was so tired, I couldn’t study or do any exercise. I was cold all the time. I gained, like, 10 pounds of water weight,” she said. “She was irritable,” sister Alicia said. The lowest point, Ceirra said, was the radioactive iodine treatment to combat the tumors. “It’s toxic. You go into complete isolation. No one can come near you. After the doctor gave it to me, he wouldn’t shake my hand. You go inside yourself, because you’re so alone, and that’s where I guess I found my inner strength,” Ceirra said. She said her illness taught her to “set priorities.” “You learn time management. Otherwise, you’re just this big ball of stress,” she said. Ceirra is on a wait list for acceptance to Yale University. She plans to be an oncologist. “I want to expand cancer treatments so people my age don’t have to lose their hair. I want to give them a silver lining,” she said. While Ceirra’s health stabilized at the end of junior year, sister Alicia’s deteriorated. “I never had health problems. I developed a fear of hospitals during all of Ceirra’s problems, and then suddenly it was my turn,” Alicia said. The summer before senior year, she was diagnosed with a tumor on her pituitary gland. A surgeon started an invasive procedure to remove the growth, but stopped when the tumor hemorrhaged. “I woke up, and my mom told me nothing had been done about the tumor,” Alicia said. Alicia juggled a painful recovery with a heavy class load that included physics and an impending senior project. She also battled headaches, medication side effects, and fear of the unknown as the tumor grew. A second surgery successfully removed the growth, and Alicia returned to school and had to catch up. “The teachers helped me a lot. My friends, everyone at school did, really. I realized my priorities, the things I had to let go. I’ve been able to catch up, and stay pretty well on top of things,” Alicia said. For her senior project, Alicia brought motivational speaker Calvin Terrell to Del Oro. “He talks about diversity, and overcoming prejudice, but he also talks about being a warrior, being strong, but not so tough that you can’t reach out and share what’s inside,” Alicia said. Alicia earned an “exemplary achievement” scholarship to study at Westminster College in Utah next year. Memfis Larrosa Memfis Larrosa, 19, said she was in bad shape when she arrived at Del Oro as a freshman. An epileptic, she had her first grand mal seizure as a third-grader. Anti-seizure medications turned her into “a zombie,” who had difficulty learning and interacting with others. She said her family was dysfunctional and, without a support system, she developed anorexia and bulimia at 13. “I didn’t have control except for this one thing. I couldn’t control my brain, or my home life. Just eating. I basically didn’t want to live anymore,” she said. She said when she got to Del Oro, “things started turning around.” “People were very nice. The teachers reached out. Everyone opened their arms, and for the first time I was accepted. People were looking at what I was on the inside, not just this 86-pound person who didn’t know how to act around other kids,” Memfis said. Memfis credits the school’s Individual Education Program and peer helpers for pulling her out of “that hole.” She plans to pursue a career in nursing to “give back to people going through the hard times. I want to remember that I can battle through it, and show them that they can too.” Aryana Smith Aryana Smith, 17, was a sophomore and a Del Oro cheerleader when she was diagnosed with Chiari Malformation, a rare disorder of the brain. She suffered excruciating headaches, dizziness and blurred vision as her cerebellum was pushed into her cervical spine, blocking the flow of spinal fluid. “I didn’t know what was going on. I was in pain. I had speech problems. I was falling down. My doctor said it was stress,” Aryana said. At the time, Aryana was taking a full load of junior-level classes, including chemistry. “I wanted to do really well in academics,” she said. When an MRI revealed the severe malformation, she said she was “relieved to have an answer.” She took pain medication until a surgery could be scheduled the following summer, and alternated “between headaches and sleeping all day.” She said her GPA slipped to 3.5, which she called “an accomplishment I was very happy with, considering the classes I was taking, and what a hard year it was.” A specialist performed surgery, removing part of Aryana’s spine and installing a titanium plate. The surgery left her with a host of nerve problems that are only now subsiding. “I get Botox injections there to calm down the tension headaches, but it’s so much better than it was,” she said. Aryana remained involved in leadership and was elected cheer captain by her team-mates. She will study psychology at Azusa Pacific University next year. Kassy Cargill Senior Kassy Cargill, 18, said she was standing in a “super long line at Disneyland” five years ago when she felt something move in her throat as she swallowed. She said she was “feeling jittery” and had trouble breathing, when doctors discovered a thyroid tumor “the size of a softball” wrapped around her esophagus. The tumor and most of her thyroid were removed, but doctors found three more tumors last year. Knowing she was facing another surgery, she said she “tried to work hard to get ahead on my grades, so I wouldn’t get left behind.” Surgeons were unable to remove all of the cancer, and subjectrd cells left behind to radioactive iodine. Like Ceirra, Kassy stopped thyroid medication for two months (“I was freezing, sick and sleepy”) before experiencing the isolation of the plastic-lined room designed to protect others from the toxins used to treat her tumors. “It was worse than the surgery. No one comes near you, and then it dawns on you — if it’s so bad for everyone, what does it mean that your body is full of it?” She said. Her grades slipped, “but I couldn’t work on homework, because I would have to throw it away if I touched it.” Kassy drew comfort from her teachers and classmates, but she worried about the future as she struggled to repair the academic damage her disease had wrought. “Everyone was so accepting, and so supportive, for the most part. But I was sick on top of sick on top of sick,” she said. Because her stepfather is unable to work because of heart disease, Kassy said, “I have to get a job to help support my family. I was starting to think college wasn’t in the cards for me.” At Senior Awards Night, however, Kassy was surprised by a $1,250 scholarship, and is heading to Sierra College in the fall. “It will get me started,” she said. For her senior project, Kassy hosted a dance for special needs students. “My dream is to get my teaching credential. I want to work with kids,” Kassy said.