Kayla Nakonechni’s Penn State pride is endless. A Nittanyville camper and THON enthusiast, it’s her radiating smile that friends and family admire the most. This past spring, Kayla danced in THON. Standing 46 hours for a battle she would soon fight herself, one thing remains evident as she fights brain cancer- her smile.
John Tecce, Kayla’s boyfriend, describes her to be the happiest, sweetest person he has ever met. “The best way to describe her attitude the past six months is that you wouldn’t know anything is wrong unless she told you,” John said.
Nocturnal focal seizures began in March. With a grand mal seizure in late April, results showed a lesion within the left parietal lobe of her brain. On the Fourth of July, Kayla experienced her first daytime seizure. Her seizures occurred as many as nine per day. The possibility of surgery was becoming a reality.
On August 12th, surgeons at Penn State Hershey Medical Center performed a seven hour brain surgery to remove the tumor from her parietal lobe. The tumor was estimated to be the size of a golf ball. Throughout the surgery, Kayla was awake, during which she had to read and move her arms. A week later, she was formally diagnosed with grade 4 Astrocytoma.
Her recovery process included speech and occupational therapy to help regain speech and strengthen her right hand, both resulting from the trauma to the left hemisphere of her brain. Currently, Kayla is undergoing six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy.
Her incredible strength and positive attitude is why she refuses to feel sorry for herself. Her blog, “Life is tough, but I’m tougher,” has been a source of communication and inspiration to her growing support system. It includes a collection of pictures, highlights and frequent updates on how she’s doing. The blog has instilled strength and positivity similar to hers to its readers.
Kayla’s support team also has a Facebook page (Team Kayla) and Twitter page (@TeamKayla37). They’ve rallied their support in numerous efforts. From banners in the Beaver Stadium end zone, bracelets, t-shirts and benefit events, they have many more ideas in store. “The Penn State community has been incredible throughout Kayla’s journey and has only further strengthened our love for the university and community,” John said.
Kayla credits the kids for which she danced for inspiring her both then and now. In an excerpt from her blog, Kayla said, “Less than a year ago kids much younger than me were my inspiration to raise thousands of dollars to stand for 46. Against fatigue and muscle soreness, I wanted to stand for their strength, honesty, courage and wisdom. Now, five months since I stood for those amazing children, they are still my inspiration to fight and smile. It’s a constant reminder of hope.”
Kayla’s story is a touching representation of a true, fighting Penn Stater. It will leave you smiling her contagious, hopeful smile.
Photo by Jonathan Hsieh (at THON 2013)