On the outside, Kayla Nakonechni is your typical Penn Stater. She camps at Nittanyville, studies biology, and danced in THON last year. On the inside, though, she’s fighting the battle of her life.
Kayla, who just finished up her junior year this May, started to notice something wrong in early March. What began as twitches and small movements soon turned into full-fledged seizures in just weeks. An MRI on March 19 revealed a growth on her parietal lobe and she was diagnosed with nocturnal seizures.
On April 24th, she had her first-ever tonic seizure at 7 a.m. which resulted in a change in medicine. She went an entire month without any problems. Throughout the summer months, though, things got worse.
As things got tougher, Kayla created a blog to keep her friends and family updated on her situation. She said, “It gets more important to me as my journey keeps continuing. I’m happy I decided to document it, kind of like a journal!” The blog is titled, “Life is tough, but I’m tougher.”
For weeks at a time, Kayla would suffer anywhere from five to nine seizures per day. It was by this time, at the end of July, that she learned she would not return to Penn State for the fall — the first semester of her senior year. She was scheduled for brain surgery on August 12 at Hershey Medical Center.
Kayla had a successful surgery in which they removed the growth in its entirety. The doctors claimed she was the most “chipper” patient they’d ever operated on. Just a few days later, the biopsy revealed something very unexpected — she was diagnosed with a stage 4 Astrocytoma.
Just six months after she stood on her feet fighting pediatric cancer, this Penn Stater is on the front lines of the battle.
She was able to go home in just four days time, and has since attended speech and occupational therapy. Soon she will start chemotherapy to ensure that the cancerous cells don’t come back.
Despite the fact that she won’t get the opportunity to camp out at Nittanyville this fall or vie for a THON captain position, Kayla remains positive. She mentioned an “outpouring” of support from not only family and friends, but people she’s never even met.
Kayla’s “team” of friends and family have said that her “attitude continues to be nothing short of incredible. That smile that we all know and love remains painted on her face.”
Whether she’s playing with her new puppy Gilly (named after her neurologist), rooting on her Phillies (as she fights the same fight as former player Darren Daulton), or talking about how much she loves THON, Kayla has become an inspiration for her friends, families, and followers (as they call themselves, #TeamKayla).
Overall, she says, THON keeps her the most positive because –as she puts it — “I’ve seen the smiles and the hope.”