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Jelena Colasurdo was your typical active preteen who loved to dance and hang out with her friends. But just after Christmas, in January of 2020, Jelena suddenly started to get headaches that would leave her nauseous. On January 22, she was so ill she began to vomit repeatedly. The next day, she appeared to have gone through the worst of her illness, and her parents, Mike and Andrea, thought it must have been some sort of virus. Then a day later, the vomiting, nausea, and headaches came back with a vengeance.

After learning of Jelena’s symptoms, her pediatrician, Dr. Carol Boersma, sent the Colasurdo family to the pediatric emergency department UVA University Hospital in their hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, to get a brain scan. On January 26, Jelena’s scan revealed she had a brain tumor that had formed on her thalamus. She immediately had her first brain surgery, which removed half of her tumor, and has since fought vigilantly to be a normal teenage girl.

Now, at just 15 years old, Jelena has been through more than any child should have to endure. She’s had two brain surgeries, two rounds of radiation, and has participated in three clinical trials to fight tumor growth and learn more about the DMG tumor in her brain. At 33 months post diagnosis, she is doing her best to live life to its fullest and advocate on behalf of other brain cancer patients for more research.

When asked how she maintains such a positive and inspiring attitude, she says, “Just take one day at a time. Don’t look forward too much, just focus on the day and time you’re already on.”

In September, Jelena and her mom, Andrea, attended CureFest, a weeklong event that brings together in a public forum various organizations and foundations related to childhood cancer. There Jelena and Andrea were able to hear from other families, fighters, and survivors about their journey with pediatric cancer. They met with congressional members of the Childhood Cancer Caucus and are inspired to attend more events and help advocate for better, safer treatment, better access to clinical trials, and most importantly, more government funding.

“We need research, we need money, we need folks who are scientists who want to fight and learn more about these sorts of cancers,” said Andrea. “You know, saying that there’s not a cure is unacceptable. It’s time to make kids like Jelena a priority.”