Inspiring story about a cancer survivor and homeschooling
Ridge woman now president of Colleges Against Cancer
By Nicole Pratl
Guest Student Writer
Heroes can come in all shapes and sizes. This hero comes in the 5-foot 2-inch frame of Colleen Pratl, my cousin and a childhood cancer survivor.
Pratl was diagnosed with gliosarcoma, a rare brain cancer, in July 2000. She was 9 years old and soon to be a fourth-grade student at Our Lady of the Ridge School in Chicago Ridge. Colleen had to undergo 30 days of pinpoint radiation, two types of chemotherapy, and two stem cell transplants — the latter which caused her to be hospitalized in isolation for six weeks each time.
Because of her frequent treatments, Pratl was homeschooled in fourth grade by her aunt, Rita Pratl.
“Homeschooling Colleen was a challenge because even though she was a quick learner, she was very tired and ill most of the school year,” Rita said. “I needed to keep her lessons upbeat and interesting to keep her mind off how tired she was and how sick she felt.”
After two years of treatments, Colleen’s cancer was found to be in remission, and it has remained so for eight years. Although she now lives cancer-free, she is still affected by her cancer because of the noticeable scar on her scalp, hair loss, her 80-percent hearing loss in her left ear. The possibility of becoming pregnant was also taken from her.
“I would say, what I mostly get emotional about now is the fact that because of the radiation, I cannot have children,” Pratl said. “The way I cope with that is simple; I just think I have fought and beat cancer and things could be much worse. Also the fact that I cannot always hide my scar truly bothers me sometimes.”
As a cancer survivor, Pratl is passionate about supporting other patients with the disease. She participated in Relay for Life during the four years she attended Marist High School. When she was a junior at Western Illinois University, she organized a Relay for Life dinner event at which she spoke as a survivor. She is currently the 2011- 12 president for Colleges Against Cancer, an organization for which she planned Breast Fest and the Great American Smoke Out, events that support breast cancer and lung cancer patients, respectively.
Colleen is determined that her experience with cancer will not hold her back.
“My experience has made me who I am and gave me every ounce of motivation I have for my future goals,” she said.
Pratl is majoring in health service management major. She intends to get her RN degree and become a nurse because she knows first-hand how much of a difference a nurse can make in a patient’s life.
Colleen lends the same advice she was given for someone going through cancer treatment.
“The only thing that can be said to someone diagnosed with cancer is to be strong,” she said. “You must stay hopeful and positive, and as much as I hated hearing this, you have to remember that things must get worse before they can get better.”