Two weeks ago, Jazmyn Dream Zeller, 17, was in a Portland hospital having a golf-ball-sized tumor removed from her brain. It was her third surgery for a brain tumor, and one of many surgeries she’s had to remove tumors around her body throughout her childhood.
She may not have much time left. Her doctors don’t want to put her through a fourth brain surgery, but the tumors leave fingers of cancer cells behind when they are removed — cells that could grow rapidly into another tumor. The most recent tumor announced its presence by pushing Zeller into a grand mal seizure two days before Christmas.
She could use a break.
That’s why her family is trying to raise the money to give her a trip to Hawaii.
Zeller, who will turn 18 in July, said the money that’s been coming in to her Go Fund Me account feels like a birthday present. The family has so far raised $883 directly through Go Fund Me. Camp Millennium is also planning to raise funds for Zeller at a car show 4 p.m. Tuesday at at Ten Down Bowling on Diamond Lake Boulevard in Roseburg. First responders will be there, as will about 105 Camp Millennium campers.
Zeller was in good spirits when The News-Review contacted her for an interview last week. She said she’s taking things one day at a time.
“I think I hold up pretty well, because I know it sounds weird or sad when I say this, but it’s kind of the only thing I’ve known, so it’s normal for me,” she said.
It helps to picture herself on a warm beach, feeling the sea breeze, smelling the air, and watching the seabirds. And besides, it’s on her bucket list.
“It would almost be my way to not necessarily say goodbye, but to feel satisfied with, I don’t know, life,” she said.
Zeller has traveled before. The Make-a-Wish Foundation gave her a trip to New York City to watch the Broadway musical Chicago in 2015. This trip will be a lot more low-key, her mother Heather Rice said. She said Zeller’s not up for visiting a place so hectic this time.
Zeller’s ongoing battles with cancer are due to an unusual genetic disorder, biallelic mismatch repair deficiency, a type of Lynch syndrome. The disorder makes her unable to fight new cancer cells that form in her body.
When The News-Review last wrote about Zeller in 2016, she’d faced down cancer six times. The first time she developed cancer, Zeller was 22 months old. A tumor behind her lungs developed arms that wrapped around her spinal cord. Spinal damage from their removal forced her to wear a back brace throughout elementary school. Subsequent tumors attacked her colon, her ureter, her bladder, her liver and her brain. In the two years since the previous story, she’s had two additional brain tumors.
“It’s been really tough, and it’s been a lot harder recently,” Rice said.
Jazmyn Dream Zeller, 15, has had many experiences that most teens have not.
When Zeller had the tumor-driven seizure two days before Christmas, Rice wasn’t home. Zeller was able to call her mother, but she was speaking gibberish.
“I got on the freeway and drove 90, and when I got to her she was non-responsive, but she had her eyes open and blood coming out of her mouth. That was probably the scariest night I’ve ever had,” Rice said.
Zeller’s prognosis is not very good. She’s already asking questions about hospice. Rice said they might take the Hawaii trip in September, but it might have to be sooner, depending what the doctors say.
Rice and Zeller said they’re very grateful for the community support. Rice said that’s ranged from SouthRiver Community Health Center coworkers donating vacation hours to Rice so she could accompany her daughter to surgery, to the Hawaii trip donors. Zeller said those donations are the whole reason she gets to go on the trip.
“It makes me extremely grateful that there are people who are willing to donate their money to let me do this thing,” Zeller said.