Recent high school graduate Molly Oldham was a typical 18-year-old 421 days ago. She was preparing to leave for college to pursue musical theatre, ready to take on her dreams of Broadway. What followed was anything but typical.
Molly and her mother, Bunny Oldham, sat in the emergency department (ED) after Molly’s migraine would not go away. After rounds of tests, they got the news; they had found a mass the size of a tennis ball in her brain. Molly, with the support of her mother and sisters, Lilly and Jordan, faced brain surgery to remove the tumor and an uncertain recovery.
The news they had hoped for never came. The mass was cancerous. Molly was diagnosed with Anaplastic Ependymoma, a rare brain cancer. Good news, the tumor was removed completely, but treatment still loomed. Molly would have to stay home the first semester of college to complete radiation. In typical Molly fashion, she took on this challenge with a lot of singing, dancing, and of course, glitter.
In addition to radiation, Molly spent a lot of time at the hospital for physical therapy. Knowing Molly’s passion for music, her team incorporated dance routines in her therapy to help get her back to showing off her moves on stage.
Now more than a year since her tumor was found, the college sophomore looks back at the roller coaster of a year, which turned even more hectic with the COVID-19 pandemic, and smiles, knowing how far she has come.
“A year ago, I was very low functioning. I needed help walking up the stairs, bathing and getting dressed,” Molly said. “Now, a year later, I’m at school dancing! I sometimes fail to remember how much it took to get me to where I am. Looking back on the last year I feel so grateful to have grown into the person I have become.”
What helped her through the hurdles of cancer? For Molly, it was the support she received from the community, both inside and outside hospital walls. Her hometown as well as her future classmates at UNC Greensboro rallied around her. At the hospital, her family, the Showers Family Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders team, and many others lifted her up in her darkest moments. The day of her diagnosis, it was undoubtedly the worst day of her life, Molly says. But despite the harsh memories of that day, she still remembers how supportive and caring her team was while Molly tried to process the life-changing news.
As Childhood Cancer Awareness Month comes to a close, support of both patients and research is needed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. When asked what she wants people to know about pediatric cancer is that cancer never stops.
“Cancer at any age is a very lonely journey,” Molly explains. “Treatment and surgeries are obviously incredibly difficult, but one of the hardest parts of the whole process is after treatments are over.”
Even when deemed in remission and cancer free, children still face a battle. The side effects from not only the cancer, but also the treatment, leave patients and their families with uncertainty. “The months following completed cancer treatment was undeniably and unexpectedly one of most difficult times for me,” mom Bunny says. “Everything is supposed to go back to normal, yet it doesn’t.”
Through the storms of diagnosis, treatment, and life “after” cancer, Molly still shows her positive attitude. “If I wouldn’t have gotten as sick as I did, if I didn’t have cancer, I would be nowhere near the human I am today,” Molly says. “I have made such huge strides as a friend, sister, daughter, student, woman, and person because of a really horrible and life-changing situation.”
While her dreams of Broadway and musical theatre have not changed, her passion for childhood cancer awareness has been ignited. Molly is currently juggling multiple projects to raise cancer awareness and funding for cancer research. Her latest project is participating in Dancing for the Kids. Dancing for the Kids is an annual fundraising event hosted by The Emerging Leaders of Akron Children’s Hospital that benefits the Showers Family Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders. This year’s event looks a little different from years past, but local celebrities fundraise while also being paired up with university dance students to perform a routine.
When asked what she wants readers to walk away knowing about her and her cancer journey, Molly made it very clear. “I don’t take simple things for granted anymore. Walking up the stairs by myself is an accomplishment. Being able to exercise with my friends is a gift. Allowing myself to be vulnerable and ask for help is progress. Everything that I do in my life has meaning. I have meaning and I am supposed to be here. I am a warrior.”
You can attend this year’s Dancing for the Kids event to see Molly’s performance by purchasing tickets at giving.akronchildrens.org/dancing.