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Family, Faith Strengthen Cancer Survivor

Des Plaines teen keeps a positive outlook while facing difficult medical challenges.

Family, Faith Strengthen Cancer Survivor Family, Faith Strengthen Cancer Survivor

There is no anger in her voice. Yet, if ever there was a teen that had a good reason to be angry, it’s Amber Moosvi, 17, of Des Plaines. Instead, Amber is beating medical odds, and doing it while drawing on her spirituality, family’s support and a conscious choice to exude a positive attitude.

“Keep a smile on because you only have one life, and do as best as you can,” Amber recently said at her family’s condo on the northwest side of Des Plaines.

Amber was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer, stage four glioblastoma multiforme, in November 2011, said her mother, Dorothy Hillbrandt. She has undergone numerous medical procedures, including two brain surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy, she said.

“She wasn’t supposed to survive brain surgery, and then if she did, they said, she wouldn’t walk or talk — and she’s had two,” Hillbrandt said. “Her prognosis was 14 months, and we’re over that, and the doctor said he can’t believe it.”

Asked if she was trying to rewrite medical textbooks, Amber grinned and said, “We’re trying.”

Amber has a port to administer intravenous medicine, a shunt to drain fluid from her brain and often has seizures. She also felt sick from the chemotherapy she received every other week, she said, but she wanted to complete the last two scheduled doses.

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t want to do chemo anymore; it’s just too much sometimes,” Amber said softly. “But now I’m almost done; I’ve only got two more to do.”

Hillbrandt said her daughter’s upbeat attitude surprised and inspired many people, including some of the nearly 7,500 people who liked Team Amber’s Facebook page, as of Dec. 28.

“It doesn’t stop her from smiling, and that’s what everyone says,” Hillbrandt said. “People can’t believe, when they see pictures of her one day, and then posting that she’s sick or in the ER the next day, they just can’t believe it.”

Despite all the setbacks, Amber has been active at her church, resilient in her school studies and has managed to meet several celebrities including her favorite band, The Jonas Brothers. She has plans to go skiing, go to the Wisconsin Dells with her family and friends, ride a hot air balloon and see Taylor Swift perform, to name a few.

Amber, a senior at Maine West High School, had to switch to home-school after her freshman and sophomore years, she said, due to other, unrelated, minor health issues. Her plan now, she said, was to pass the General Education Development test, or GED.

Amber is also re-learning to play guitar, and, though she has trouble reading due to the effects of the brain surgeries, she writes personal journal entries.

She said her favorite class at Maine West was Design and Materials. Amber described a recent project she worked on: a star with shards of glass, including a couple different shades of blue.

“It was really cool,” Amber said.

Amber is part of the Willow Creek Community Church congregation in Barrington, and, in the summer, she spoke at four services about what cancer had done to her, how God and Jesus work together for her, and how her faith helped her, she said.

“I told them that I believe in Jesus and that he is my savior, and he’s the only reason I am here right now,” Amber said.

The Jonas Brothers also believe in Jesus, Amber said, which was important to her. She said the band’s music had meaning for her, as opposed to loud, “big rock” music. But the 17-year-old high school student said the Jonas Brothers was the best band for another reason too.

“They’re really cute,” Amber said.

The family met the Jonas Brothers in New Jersey, and watched them perform in New York in October. Amber beamed as she described meeting her idols, riding in a limousine with them and watching them perform.

“It was just like a dream; it was amazing,” Amber said. “And I was shaking the whole time.”

Amber took the opportunity to outfit the brothers in Team Amber T-shirts, and, more recently, gave a stack of purple, Team Amber bracelets to Cody Simpson, another pop star. She said while there have been many efforts to bring awareness and funding to breast cancer, more needs to be done for brain cancer.

There has been only one drug created for brain tumors in 20 years, Hillbrandt said.

Amber lives with her mother and her 15-year-old sister, Paige Moosvi. Paige created Team Amber’s Facebook page, and does other things to support her sister, Hillbrandt said.

Hillbrandt spends much of her time advocating for Amber. Hillbrandt said she had to give up her banking and mortgage work in order to care for her daughter, downsized her car and was constantly looking for ways to advance brain cancer treatment and pay medical expenses.

“I will not stop; I worked 16 years full time, and I’m home, and I won’t stop until they find a cure,” Hillbrandt said.

Amber said her positive attitude came from, in part, her mother.

“She is my role model, and she does everything for me,” Amber said. “And I love her so much. Without my mom, I wouldn’t be here.”

In March, Amber is scheduled to give another speech about her experience for a nonprofit organization that is working to increase awareness of pediatric brain cancer, Cancer Kiss My Cooley, based in Huntley.

“Team Amber is everyone who believes in me, and believes that we can kick cancer’s booty,” Amber said.

Amber said her experiences changed the way she looked at other people and at the world. She said she prioritized things differently and she felt more sensitive toward others than perhaps other teens her age did.

“They don’t understand until they go through cancer how my family, we have to stick together, and just have to fight,” Amber said.

Amber sounds weary but resolute, young but wise, and after months of hardships, grateful for her life, family, faith and The Jonas Brothers. There is no anger in her voice.

“I just try my best with everything, because if something were to ever happen to me, I know that I would become an angel,” Amber said.

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