A Volleyball Star's Brave Cancer Journey
- Torrey Tkach was diagnosed with a rare tumor called ependymoma just two years ago after struggling with back pain and leg numbness. But she wouldn’t let that stop her from chasing her dreams and getting back to the volleyball court.
- Ependymoma is a very rare type of tumor that starts in the brain or spinal cord which make up the central nervous system (CNS).
- Resilience is not an uncommon trait amongst cancer warriors. Danielle Ripley-Burgess, a two-time colon cancer survivor, says her cancer journey helped her uncover “some beautiful things: Wisdom. Love. Life purpose. Priorities.”
During the summer before entering 10th grade, Tkach began struggling with back pain and numbness in her leg at volleyball practice.Read More
“I just thought I needed to do more strength training and stretch more, so I went to physical therapy,” Tkach told The Oxford Eagle.
But once an arthopedic surgeon referred her for an MRI, doctors discovered the true cause far worse than a muscular issue. That’s when Tkach found out she had a rare tumor on her spinal cord called an ependymoma.
For treatment, she underwent surgery in September of her 10th-grade year effectively missing all of her beloved volleyball season.
“I knew I would have to work harder than anyone else to get back on the court,” the 6-foot 2-inch middle hitter said. “It gave me a purpose and motivation in the gym. I wanted to prove to everyone that I could do it.
“If I hadn’t had this experience, I don’t think I would be as strong as I am now.”
Now a volleyball team captain in her senior year at Oxford High School in Oxford, Mississippi, a fully-recovered Tkach is hoping to lead her team to victory after their win in the north-half state championship in 2021. She’s also received a full scholarship to play Division I volleyball at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) making her the first in her high school’s history to get a full Division 1 scholarship for volleyball. Needless to say, SurvivorNet is wishing Tkach the best of luck – though we’re sure she won’t need it.
Ependymoma is a very rare type of tumor that starts in the brain or spinal cord which make up the central nervous system (CNS).
Ependymoma can develop in adults, but it occurs most often in young children, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), and accounts for about 5 percent of all childhood brain cancers. The ASCO estimates that about 240 people under the age of 19 will be diagnosed with ependymoma this year in the United States.
Most ependymoma cases tend to be slow-growing tumors, but there are stages that grow faster. According to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, these are the major types:
- Subependymoma (grade I). This is a slow-growing tumor near the brain ventricles. It’s more common in adults than children. Many times, they don’t cause symptoms.
- Myxopapillary ependymoma (grade I). This is a slow-growing, lower spinal cord tumor most common in male adults.
- Classic ependymoma (grade II). This is a somewhat faster-growing tumor in both children and adults. There are many subtypes.
- Anaplastic ependymoma (grade III). This is a fast-growing cancerous tumor often in the base of the brain and rarely in the spinal cord. It tends to spread into nearby parts of the brain and spread to other parts of the brain. These tumors tend to come back after treatment.
The Resilience of Cancer Warriors
At SurvivorNet, we get to share stories of resilience all the time because there’s no shortage of brave cancer warriors holding onto hope in the face of adversity and achieving amazing things.
Danielle Ripley-Burgess, a two-time colon cancer survivor, is another resilient cancer survivor like Torrey Tkach. She was first diagnosed with colon cancer in high school and proceeded to beat the disease not once, but twice.
Understandably so, Ripley-Burgess has had to work through a lot of complex emotions that came with her cancer journey. Even still, she’s always managed to look at life with a positive attitude.
“As I’ve worked through the complex emotions of cancer, I’ve uncovered some beautiful things: Wisdom. Love. Life purpose. Priorities,” she previously told SurvivorNet. “I carry a very real sense that life is short, and I’m grateful to be living it! This has made me optimistic.
“Optimism doesn’t mean that fear, pain and division don’t exist – they do. Our world is full of negativity, judgment and hate. Optimism means that I believe there’s always good to be found despite the bad, and this is what my life is centered around.”
She moves through life with a sense of purpose unique to someone who’s been faced with the darkest of times. Happily in remission today, she’s determined to, one day, leave the world better than she found it.
“We can choose to stay positive, treat others with respect and look for the light in spite of the darkness,” she said. “This type of attitude and behavior will lead to the kind of legacies I believe all of us hope to leave.”