Zoe: A Pediatric Brain Tumor Survivor’s Love of Books Opens the Door to New Worlds and New Research Funding for a Cure
At only three years old, Zoe was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Now, at age 15, she is using her story and her love for reading to support other children and teens like her.
Zoe was diagnosed with optic glioma, a type of brain cancer in or around the optic nerve, which resulted in her going blind in her right eye. In the past ten years, she has gone through three chemotherapy protocols, the last being a clinical trial that shrunk her tumor by 25% with minimal side effects.
While she was going through treatment, doctors recommended she limit her interactions with others and refrain from her usual activities like dance class. To distract her from her treatment, she started reading and found it was a great escape from the hospitals and doctor's offices she spent so much of her time in. Instead of going to dance classes, she read about dancers in her books and lived through the characters’ experiences.
“Books have been important in my life because they’ve taught me so much, not only in knowledge but also in empathy. When I was younger and I got diagnosed with a brain tumor, my immune system was compromised based on the treatments that I was given. I didn’t have a lot of options to fill my time. So when I was in hospitals, I spent a lot of time reading. While not just giving me something to do with my time, it also provided me an escape where I could forget about the trials of treatment and what I was going through at that time,” said Zoe.
Combining Zoe’s love for reading and her desire to give back, her family organized a read-a-thon fundraiser in 2021 called Books 4 Brains to raise money for pediatric brain cancer research. The family has firsthand experience of how research and advancement in treatment can impact a child and improve their quality of life. They want other families to see the benefits of research just like they were able to with Zoe’s clinical trial. Research is only possible with funding, so the read-a-thon was a great opportunity for their entire family to do their part in making a difference in the lives of children and teens with brain tumors.
You can see Zoe’s passion for literature shine through in her reading of three children’s books in honor of Brain Tumor Awareness Month. One book she chose to read was “The Miracle Workers: Boy Vs. Beast” by René Marsh. It was written in honor of Rene’s son Blake who battled a fatal brain tumor.
While Zoe has a deep interest in reading, she also has a love for traveling and draws her strength from the many unique experiences and people she has met along the way. Her family lived in Jerusalem until she was three and she was able to travel to several countries, which made her appreciate other cultures. Recently Zoe and her family embarked on their next journey by moving to Hawaii. Although it was nerve-wracking to say goodbye to her friends and start high school in a new state where she didn’t know anyone, she branched out and was able to participate in activities she was unable to at her old school.
“Even though it was uncomfortable, I decided to give cross country a try. I pushed myself physically and learned to really enjoy running and have been able to run faster than I could before. I was able to make some new friends who I am so grateful for. I'm proud that I had the courage to try something new.”
Zoe used to shy away from speaking to others about her journey with a pediatric brain tumor, but the last few years opened her eyes to how sharing her story can help inspire others. She and her family are organizing another Books 4 Brains read-a-thon this year to benefit the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. Learn more and join in on the reading at https://team.curethekids.org/campaign/books-4-brains