One of the most celebrated accomplishments in a young person’s life is when he or she graduates high school. For three Class of 2021 Cherokee County residents, this milestone was even more significant, having survived childhood cancer in their early years.
Rylee Buchanan, Georgia Cyber Academy
Georgia Cyber Academy graduate Rylee Buchanan was diagnosed at 6 years old with a brain tumor on her left optic nerve and chiasm, a spot where two nerves cross.
“At first, it affected my schooling because I was in treatment and I couldn’t go to in-person school, so I had teachers with homebound to help me with my first grade year,” Buchanan said. “Afterwards, the chemotherapy caused neuropathy (damage to nerves outside the brain that can cause weakness, numbness and pain, typically in the hands and feet) in my hands, and I also developed slow processing speed, which affected all aspects of my schooling.”
While receiving extra accommodations from the school system did help her, Buchanan said she had to have the determination and desire to complete her work in order to push forward.
“It feels good to have accomplished this goal, and I do feel proud of myself and like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” she said.
Having completed her high school career, Buchanan said she plans on attending Kennesaw State this fall to become a photographer.
Ascher Shostak, Etowah High School
Ascher Shostak, a graduate from Etowah High School, was diagnosed with a mixed germ cell brain tumor at the age of 3.
“This diagnosis and health condition affected my schooling because the side effects of the tumor and chemotherapy treatment impacted my memory, speed of processing information and fine motor skills. These effects made learning in a normal way a bit more difficult,” Shostak said.
Similar to Buchanan, Shostak said he received extra accommodations from the school district. He described himself as a determined individual and had help from his parents, friends and family to keep pushing forward. Shostsak’s parents described feeling proud of his graduating high school as being an understatement, as there were many challenges along the way, along with not knowing what the future would bring.
“I am proud of myself for graduating high school and proving that I can do what most other people can,” Shostak said. “It shows that I can achieve whatever I want to as long as I keep on track and focus on the end goal.”
This fall, Shostak will attend the University of Alabama at Birmingham, entering a pre-med program to study cancer biology, with future plans to go to medical school to become either a children’s doctor or a medical researcher.
Ava Wenclawiak, Cherokee High School
Ava Wenclawiak was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia when she was 4 years old and once couldn’t walk. Now, she’s been a dancer at DanceCentre South for seven years, according to CURE Childhood Cancer.
Her mother, Janine Wenclawiak, said Ava was in preschool at the time of the diagnosis. However, shortly after being diagnosed, Wenclawiak developed neuropathy in her legs which affected her in such a way she was not able to walk. Though her mother said there were no side effects from her chemotherapy treatments, Ava spent seven months in physical therapy re-learning to walk.
“School work and her chemo was not the hard part: her ‘pushing through’ was learning to walk again,” Janine Wenclawiak said.
Janine Wenclawiak said the family was proud of Ava’s hard work and dedication to graduate from Cherokee High School with honors and in the top 5% of her graduating class.
This fall, Wenclawiak plans to attend Clemson University, studying animal and veterinary medicine to become a veterinarian.