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Tampa woman fights brain cancer, gives back

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© Michelle-Kaylin Amabile Photography © Michelle-Kaylin Amabile Photography

This is a story about a Tampa woman fighting back against brain cancer. Refusing to give up, she is using her battle to not only inspire us, but raise money to help others.

Michelle Boyd DeJong, 27, is a young entrepreneur. Like so many of us, DeJong is a busy person. In addition to running her own company, she is newly married, constantly doing nonprofit work, and, recently finishing remodeling a Seminole Heights home with her husband.

Today, Michelle is the courageous face of cancer.

For as long as she can remember, headaches were a simple fact of life. She thought they were caused by fatigue. One night, after going scuba diving on a vacation, her headache felt different.

"I felt the headache in the back of my head," Michelle recounted. "When I laid down, I heard it moving. It sounded like a balloon letting out air…totally freaky."

Michelle decided to go to the doctor, who sent her to get a CAT scan.

Her brain scan revealed shocking news. Doctors diagnosed Michelle with cancer.

"When I found out I just thought, I've founded a company; I’ve been married for less than two years," Michelle revealed. "We have our dream home on the water. To be honest, I was just like all of this good stuff has happened in my life, and now I'm going to die. Now, I'm going to die."

Doctors informed Michelle she has a grade 4 tumor, the most serious kind. Because the mass is sitting at the brainstem, it's too risky to operate.

For now, she's living with a shunt; a device inside her brain that drains fluid.

Doctors estimate Michelle has 12 to 18 months to live. But, you would never guess that by talking to her and her husband, Ryan. The two are constantly smiling, and Michelle, giggling.

"I was feeling bad and Ryan gave me tough love," Michelle asserted. "So I got the message loud and clear and dried my tears and said tomorrow is a new day."

Since then, they've been living every day as new.

"There are people living long lives with this diagnoses," Ryan said.

Perhaps some of the people most surprised by Michelle's diagnosis are the people at the Children's Cancer Center. Michelle had volunteered there, helping kids with cancer, long before she knew she'd have a battle of her own.

"One of the funniest things she tells me is, “If the kids can do it, I can do it," Danielle Lanier, with the Cancer Center, declared.

Lanier still can't believe Michelle is now a patient.

"We expect the kids who come in here to be sick," Lanier said. "Yes, it's sad but we expect it. We never expect someone like Michelle, in her volunteering, to get sick."

One of Michelle's favorite activities was planning the teen prom.

"They're just kids," Michelle said. "I fell in love with every one of them. I just thought their lives, their families’ lives, are in shambles. They're kids. They can’t do anything about it, but they do a great job dealing with it."

The Cancer Center was one of the first groups to reach out to her after she got the news. Michelle thinks about the kids every day. Knowing, if they can face cancer with courage, she can too.

Always the community servant, Michelle is now helping in a different way. She's posting her journey on Facebook. She's incredibly open, hoping her strength and struggles can help others.

"I've been very fortunate.. getting so much support from friends and family. All of these cards coming in and text messages, facebook posts," an upbeat Michelle remarks. 

She started a team under Miles for Moffitt, a race benefiting the cancer center, and in just a few weeks has raised more than $25,000.

(Visit Michelle's Miles for Moffitt team page here)

"Everyone I've helped in the past is now helping me," Michelle said. "It just shows the good you put into the world will come back to you. I really believe that."

If you want proof, just look at her mantle. It's full of cards from well wishers, most of them people she's fought for in the past.

Following her diagnosis, Michelle had the word “Fighter” tattooed on her left arm. It is grey to symbolize brain cancer. A brain is also detailed inside the letter ‘g’.

For Michelle, the tattoo is a reminder that on tough days she can look down at her arm and realize that she is a fighter – fighting for both herself and those battling with brain cancer at the same time.

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