One’s health is never guaranteed, and it can easily be taken for granted. A lifelong athlete, I’ve always been hyperaware of this reality, making sure to religiously rehab my injuries, eat right and get plenty of sleep.
However, there was no way I could have prepared for the news I received in the winter of my first year at Northwestern in 2015. I was diagnosed with a giant osteoma in my head. The slow-growing tumor, which was larger than a golf ball, threatened to blind me.
Eight days before the 2015 Junior National volleyball team tryouts in Colorado Springs, a CT scan ordered by my Northwestern athletic trainer showed a tumor that extended through my sinus cavities and into my right orbital cavity. Within 24 hours of receiving the results, the trainer had secured appointments for me with one of the top ear, nose and throat surgeons and the top oculoplastic eye surgeon in the Midwest. Despite the combined 60 years of experience between them, the doctors had ever seen anything quite like this nor heard of any similar case in which a tumor this size had grown into the orbital cavity.
The doctors explained that the tumor had grown around two eye muscles and was very close to my optic nerve. They wanted to remove it immediately, but I asked them to postpone the surgery for more than a week so I could attend the tryouts as planned. I knew that I might have permanent double vision after surgery, or lose my eyesight completely, and I wanted the chance to play one last time.
After returning from tryouts, I had a more than five-hour operation, during which the surgeons carefully removed the tumor in pieces. The tumor turned out to be benign, and the double vision I experienced for several weeks after the surgery went away and hasn’t returned.
I recovered at my home in Wilmette, Ill., for about six weeks before returning to the Evanston campus. I missed four weeks of winter quarter classes, including final exams. When I was finally allowed to play ball again, I worked very closely with the Northwestern volleyball staff in the gym and weight room, trying to regain my game. My speedy recovery not only got me back in time for my sophomore season with Northwestern but also allowed me to accept one of 12 spots on the 2015 Junior National team.
Northwestern provided easy access to top medical resources, which was pivotal to my successful surgery, fast recovery and continued health. The doctors at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago created a game plan for my intricate surgery out of thin air, having no case studies to guide them. The Northwestern athletic medical staff on campus crafted a custom face mask so I could start practicing even while I was still healing. From the day I found out about my tumor, I felt so blessed to be a Wildcat, knowing my health was in the best hands.
After the surgery, I was unsure if I could get credit for my courses and continue pursuing a major in economics, as I missed weeks of class and final exams during my recovery. The athletic academic services office and professors at Northwestern were more than accommodating. The economics department has a very strict policy of no make-up tests, but my professors were understanding of my medical issues and gave me a window of time to complete the required work. I’m thankful that Northwestern professors see student-athletes as more than just athletes.
I verbally committed to Northwestern my sophomore year of high school, selecting the University for its prestigious academics and extremely competitive volleyball conference, unaware of the medical challenges I would face during college and potentially the rest of my life. (I have since undergone four operations to address recurring infections that sideline me for days and weeks at a time.) My successful recovery has made it possible to balance my heavy course load with the 20-plus hours a week I dedicate to the volleyball program and to pursue my aspirations after college, whether that’s representing USA Volleyball or working in the business world.
Taylor Tashima ’18 studied economics at Northwestern and was a setter for the Northwestern women’s volleyball team.