Student perseveres through thyroid cancer
July 11, 2022
McKenna Berry
Grade: 12 School: Ponderosa High School District: El Dorado Union High School ACSA region: 2
McKenna Berry never imagined her high school journey would start the way it did. The day before she was set to begin her freshman year at Ponderosa High School, doctors diagnosed McKenna with thyroid cancer. But with unfailing perseverance, McKenna soldiered on, never allowing her diagnosis to define her. She founded Pondo Pillars, a group for students struggling with medical issues. She also served as president of the Hands for Hope service club.
In the fall, McKenna will attend UC Santa Cruz where she plans to major in biology with future plans of a career in genetics.
What does it mean to you to win the ACSA Every Student Succeeding award? Honestly, I felt very seen. For all of the time that I have been sick, and all these things that had been going on in my life, not really many people knew about it. And a lot of people tend to make assumptions just looking at me seeing I’m a twin. And that’s one of the first things people see about me.
Can you share a little about some of the challenges you’ve faced? I actually have a couple autoimmune disorders. And my family knew about them for a while, since I was 10. So, we had been monitoring, general checks, and we were doing a couple of scans. And it was a routine scan. I found out the day before I started high school that I had a papillary carcinoma, which is a thyroid cancer.
How did you maneuver through those first few weeks after the diagnosis? In one aspect, it was like, “Oh my gosh, like I have cancer.” And it’s kind of terrifying. And it’s kind of hard to deal with that. And then I’m at school, and nobody really knows. So, I’m just trying to have this social life with all my friends while I’m also in and out of doctors and trying to figure out this scenario when you find out you have cancer. I think my family and especially my sister were able to help me with coping because they were there for me all the time.
What type of role did your school community play in helping you? I missed a lot of school my freshman year and going in, I had some very high ambitions. I have pretty high standards when it comes to grades. My school counselor is an amazing human being, and she was awesome in helping me communicate with my teachers. They understood that sometimes there was something I couldn’t do, but I was still putting in my best work.
What message do you have for students who are facing similar challenges? I really think I would say find your people. It’s kind of hard to find people who are going to support you. You really kind of see people’s true colors when you go through something so big. For me, I started a club at my school for students who were going through like different medical things. It’s been very nice to be around people who can empathize with what I went through. And I can help them with the things that they’re going through.
2022 Region 2 ESS student McKenna Berry with her twin sister.
2022 Region 2 ESS student McKenna Berry.
2022 Region 2 ESS student McKenna Berry.
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