For 14-year-old Olivia Genteman of Highland, winning the varsity state dance competition on Valentine’s Day was a dream come true. However, the days that followed would become a nightmare.
On the way home from the competition, Olivia complained to her mom, Michelle, that her neck was hurting and she was feeling dizzy. It was the same pain she had experienced days before, which had prompted her mother to schedule a doctor’s appointment for Feb. 16.
But following her renewed complaints, her mother suspected something was more seriously wrong. Then, she felt the lumps on her daughter’s neck.
She did not wait for Olivia’s appointment. She took her to Anderson Hospital in Maryville, where she underwent X-rays and a CAT scan. After the tests, Michelle recalled seeing the word “cancer” written on Olivia’s hospital papers.
She remembers crying with her daughter after she broke the news.
“I told her, ‘It’s time for both of us to put our big girl britches on. We’re going to win this fight,’ ” she said.
Olivia finished her second round of chemotherapy last week. After some rest, she will begin round three.
Her doctors say she will need to have at least four rounds of chemotherapy, and no more than eight rounds, when it is all said and done, Michelle said.
Olivia, who is a freshman at Highland High School, does not plan to have radiation at this time, because of possible health complications down the line, her mother said.
While Olivia has lost most of her hair, she is keeping a positive attitude and outlook on life.
In fact, Olivia told the staff at Anderson Hospital before she left for Cardinal Glennon, she’d be back in a year to show them what she will look like after she beats cancer.
“I am very proud of Olivia, who in the past, was not very assertive,” she said. “But she has been very assertive with her doctors. As a mother, that’s the attitude you want to see from your child.”
Her doctors say her prognosis is very good.
“We’re going to do it,” said Michelle, who has not left her daughter’s bedside. “We’re going to win this fight.”
And her friends, HHS classmates and the community, are helping her through.
In a show of solidarity, Austin Welz, HHS assistant boys basketball coach and himself a survivor of childhood cancer, allowed Olivia to shave his head.
“I figured since my friend is losing her hair, I would go bald with her, and allow her to shave my head,” Welz posted on Facebook.
Hundreds of her fellow HHS students also came out for a “Dancin’ in the Dark” fundraiser for her on March 7 at Lindenthal Ballroom, and more fundraisers are in the works.
Michelle said she appreciates all of the community’s support for Olivia. She said she was also touched by Welz, who has offered her daughter a “good level of support.”
“He’s been through it,” Michelle said.
Mother and daughter are also finding strength through prayers.
“We have to stray strong,” Michelle said.