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Canyon High ‘social butterfly,’ overcomes rare cancer, graduates with class of 2011

Posted: May 25, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 25, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Canyon High graduate Balquees Obadi was diagnosed as having nasopharyngeal cancer, but she walked at the school’s graduation ceremony with her classmates Tuesday after she completed a year’s worth of home study.

 

Balquees Obadi looked forward to starting her senior year at Canyon High School.

But days before classes began in August, the pain began.

First there were headaches and eye pain. When classes began, her neck and face became swollen. The headaches became unbearable. At first, her doctor’s didn’t know what was wrong.

“It felt like someone stabbing me in the face,” Obadi said. “My doctor said there’s nothing wrong with me, but I was like, ‘Look man, I’m in a lot of pain.’”

After meeting with more doctors and experts, Obadi was finally diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer, a rare and deadly disease that most commonly affects men in their late 40s.

With the diagnosis came the realization that much of Obadi’s senior year would be spent at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center as she underwent chemotherapy treatments to reduce the size of the tumor.

Through Obadi’s determination, the support of family, friends, Canyon High School staff and the doctors and nurses at the hospital, the 17-year-old was able to complete her course work and graduate on time with her peers Tuesday.

The experience has been challenging for the entire family, Obadi’s mother, Denise, said. During nine weeks of chemotherapy treatments, Balquees became severely ill with high fevers. The radiation burned her skin and caused her hair to fall out.

Balquees is known as a “social butterfly,” her mother said. Balquees’ friends made frequent visits to the hospital to boost her spirits.

“My friends wouldn’t leave me alone,” Balquees Obadi said, laughing. “They’d come over, and we’d have sleepovers at the hospital.”

When she was physically able to do so, she continued her course work. The chemotherapy, meanwhile, reduced the tumor that was growing behind her sinuses near her brain, Denise Obadi said.

Denise Obadi spent long hours in the hospital, and made the daily commute from Santa Clarita to Los Angeles. She said she had to maintain her composure while talking with her daughter.

“I never cried in front of (Balquees),” Denise Obadi said. “As her mother, I knew I had to be strong for her.”

At last check, the radiation had reduced the size of the tumor by about 94 percent. Doctors will continue to monitor the tumor with the hopes of surgically removing it.

Balquees will go through another round of testing in June.

Despite the upcoming testing and an emotionally and physically draining senior year, she said she made many close friends at the hospital who have all endured similar circumstances.

“The nurses and doctors became a family to me,” Obadi said. “Even though I was sick, they always made me laugh.”

Obadi is planning to attend summer camp this summer and to enroll at College of the Canyons in the fall.

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