Recovered from a Brain Tumor, Peyton is Poised to Shine

Ever since hosting her middle school’s morning broadcast, Peyton has dreamt of becoming a broadcast journalist. While pursuing her dream career at the University of Alabama, she began experiencing unrelenting headaches. She attributed the headaches at first to stress, but the pain soon became unbearable.  

At a local hospital, a CT scan revealed a five-centimeter mass on Peyton’s brain. She’d need emergency surgery to remove as much of the mass as possible and relieve fluid buildup in her brain. Her mom, Michelle, flew in from the Chicago suburbs to be there.    

Biopsy results showed the mass was a cancerous brain tumor known as medulloblastoma. Peyton and Michelle were overwhelmed with questions – but not with the question of where to seek care. 

“We kept thinking: We have to get home to Chicago,” Michelle said. “We have the best children’s hospital with the best doctors.”

Lurie Children’s Brain Tumor Center offers highly specialized, state-of the-art care for children and teens with brain tumors. The hospital’s Neurology & Neurosurgery program is ranked 10th in the nation by U.S.News & World Report.

The team welcomed Peyton, and she underwent another MRI in preparation for another operation to remove the rest of the mass. Quickly, she felt at home: Her care team happened to consist of alumni of Southeastern Conference schools, just like Peyton.  

Dr. DeCuypere is a University of Tennessee grad, so we had a friendly rivalry,” Peyton said. “He wore his cowboy boots into surgery, and I was like, OK, I can roll with this.”  

On Valentine’s Day, Peyton went into surgery. “We said it was like a bad breakup with her tumor,” Michelle remembered. “When Peyton came out of surgery, I asked Dr. DeCuypere, did you get it all? He looked at me like, do you know who I am? Of course.” 

Silver Linings  

After surgery, Peyton began radiation therapy followed by a lengthy course of chemotherapy. Although heartbroken to miss out on a full year of college, she was determined to stay involved.  

“My biggest advice for anyone in my shoes would be to find something that you still have control over,” she said. “That was staying in my classes for me. I met my professors over Zoom. I did my assignments to the best of my ability. I received support from School Services. Being in control of something when your health is on the line and your appearance is changing really helps.” 

A major in broadcast journalism, Peyton’s plans for her first news internship were foiled by her cancer diagnosis. Her neuro-oncologist, Dr. Ashley S. Plant-Fox, connected her with a friend at a local news station, who met with Peyton in the hospital. “That was a really cool experience. It was so helpful and motivating for me as someone who wants to go into the industry.”  

As part of her comprehensive treatment plan, Peyton opted to undergo fertility preservation to offset the risk of infertility that cancer treatment can pose. The fertility program at Lurie Children’s is the only one of its kind for pediatric patients in the state of Illinois. 

Finish Lines and New Beginnings 

In March 2023, Peyton rang the end-of-chemo bell with her family, friends and care team by her side.

“It was probably the best day ever,” she said, growing emotional. When Peyton returned home from the hospital, she found care packages from her friends from school who could not join in person.

“The brain tumor team is like family to us,” Michelle said. “We were never made to feel like just a number.”  

This May, Peyton will graduate from the University of Alabama with high honors. She’s secured a full-time job at a news station in Alabama and remains involved with pediatric brain tumor research and advocacy. Someday, Peyton hopes to find ways to support other pediatric cancer patients whose career goals are temporarily affected by treatment.  

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