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A Story Of Hope: One Incoming Freshman’s Family Story Of Overcoming Adversity

If there’s anything the coronavirus pandemic has taught us in the last year, it’s to appreciate and care for the ones we love the most in times of crisis. Incoming Penn State freshman Tarynn Noll and her mom, Cheryl Campanaro, learned just that nearly eight years ago.

After having just moved to Texas a few months earlier, Campanaro was experiencing acute lower back pain for a few days nearly but initially thought she had pulled a muscle. She was working in retail during Black Friday weekend when her back started throbbing with intense pain.

“I said [that] I was just going to go sit in my car in the parking lot with the heated seats on, and just try and relax,” Campanaro said. “And an hour later, I got out of the car and just collapsed in the parking lot, like I couldn’t feel anything from the waist down.”

Thankfully, a security guard found her and called 911. Once Campanaro got to the hospital, the doctors believed she had transverse myelitis – an inflammation of the spinal cord that interrupts the messages that the spinal cord nerves send throughout the body. The disease can often damage the myelin, the sheath that forms around nerve cells.

Campanaro said that for some people the condition can resolve on its own in a few weeks. But for her, on top of having an autoimmune disorder, it took a few years plus plenty of intravenous immunoglobulin treatments, which provide the body with antibodies to fight off infections. Despite the treatments, the chances of Campanaro getting better were slim.

“At that point, my doctor said that I was never going to walk again. I literally had no sensations from the waist down,” Campanaro said, “and at that point, a lot of my organs were starting to become affected.”

Noll was only nine years old when Campanaro received her diagnosis. Although she didn’t know exactly what was happening with her mom, Noll knew that she wanted to take on her mom’s role by caring for Campanaro and her two younger brothers, Trevor and Beckett.

“Along with [my mom] being sick, it affected everybody in the family probably a little bit differently…So I thought it was in everybody’s best interest if I stepped up since I’m the oldest and took on what I saw my mom do for my brothers,” Noll said.

At 9 years old, Noll took on the job of a full-time parent. She cooked, cleaned, and handled a lot of Campanaro’s care — clearly no easy task for any child to take on at such a young age.

Over the next couple of years, Campanaro and Noll’s family moved back to New Jersey. Campanaro’s parents also helped take care of her, which took some of the sole pressure off of Noll and allowed her to have a little more freedom than she had while living in Texas.

Campanaro’s health started to improve in late 2015 thanks to a lot of physical therapy, and she started to regain feeling again in the lower half of her body. Once she was able to walk using a walker, Campanaro wanted to give her kids their lives back by enrolling them in different sports and activities.

From left to right: Brandon Campanaro, Trevor Noll, Tarynn Noll, Cheryl Campanaro, and Beckett Noll |Dana Fleck Photography

“Regardless of where it was going to take me, I was going to make sure that my kids had a life again,” Campanaro said.

For Noll, once Campanaro could start walking again, it gave her a sense of hope that her mom would be able to walk on her own again someday without needing any help – something that had been a long time coming.

“For me, it was some hope to hold onto that I saw her stand and start walking without needing support,” Noll said. “It was shocking, and I knew she was going to be able to do what she believed she was going to end up doing, which was walking fully again without needing any walker or crutches.”

Despite the adversity, Noll said that this experience was crucial to learning who she is and what she’s capable of doing.

“I’m very grateful, even though I didn’t really like those years of my life, I can’t really trade that in for anything else – and I don’t really want to because that is what makes me myself,” Noll said.

For Campanaro, she said her outlook on life has completely changed since receiving her diagnosis all of those years ago.

“It does make you appreciate so many little things,” Campanaro added. “Living in a pandemic right now where people feel isolated and feel alone, I felt that daily…I take this as we’ll be okay, we’ll be fine. It’s a completely different mindset.”

And it’s more than clear that good things can happen to even better people. A few weeks ago, Noll got accepted into Penn State’s landscape architecture program and will join Nittany Nation this fall. But becoming a Penn Stater wasn’t something Noll always had in mind.

“Originally, my mindset was going to community college for two years and then figuring it out because I couldn’t leave home. I couldn’t leave my family,” Noll said.

Once Campanaro started to get better, Noll began to think that going to a big university was actually a possibility for her.

“As my mom was getting better and I started finding more individuality, I was starting to think, ‘Oh, maybe I can go to a big school, and everyone keeps talking about Penn State. It seems like it’s a really good school, [and] I should probably go there,'” Noll joked.

Noll’s interest in landscape architecture came from her initial passion for architecture in general. Although she didn’t know much about what landscape architecture entailed initially, Noll knew that she wanted to create things and help the environment.

After writing an essay to Penn State about her passion for architecture and preserving the environment plus doing some research into the university’s program, Noll knew that she wanted to call Happy Valley home.

Once she and Campanaro found out she got accepted to Penn State after religiously checking, Campanaro, Noll, and the rest of their family celebrated with a photo shoot to commemorate the special — yet long overdue — occasion.

While things are still very uncertain with the coronavirus pandemic, Noll said that she’s hoping to move into her future dorm in the fall. Campanaro said that while she knows sending her oldest child off to college definitely won’t be the easiest, she’s excited for Noll to start the next chapter of her life and knows she’ll only be a drive away from their home in Pottsgrove, Pa.

“I need her to just go out and discover really who she is independent of the family and really have those experiences that I had always dreamed of for her,” Campanaro said. “That’s most exciting for me.”

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About the Author

Mackenzie Cullen

Sadly, Mackenzie graduated from Penn State in 2022. She majored in English and served as one of Onward State's associate editors. You can keep up with her life and send compliments to @MackenzieC__ on Twitter.

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