FONDA - Jennifer Bushey was 22 years old when her battle with brain cancer began in June 1996.
Bushey, a Fonda native, was a student in Cortland when she felt her first symptom: her left side went completely numb.
But she wouldn't know why for another five months.
Jennifer Bushey of Fonda, a brain cancer survivor, is participating in Friday’s 14th annual Fulton-Montgomery Relay for Life in Gloversville.
The Leader-Herald/Amanda Whistle
"I went five months of being misdiagnosed," said Bushey, quoting doctors who suggested her symptoms were side effects from drug or alcohol abuse or simply anxiety.
As the numbing periodically continued - along with seizures - she came back to Fonda and saw medical professionals in Albany who said it was multiple sclerosis or a blood clot. Another doctor suggested she visit a psychiatrist for a possible chemical imbalance. Still another said she suffered a mini-stroke.
All of those theories persisted even though one doctor ran a test that detected a spot on her brain.
"They all said it came out inconclusive," Bushey said.
Finally in November she suffered a severe seizure that swelled her brain and dilated her pupils so much, doctors couldn't tell the color of her eyes, Bushey said.
As soon as her brain stopped swelling, doctors performed emergency surgery.
By this time, Bushey had gone from 130 pounds to 95 pounds and couldn't finish her last semester, even though she was three credits away from her teaching certification.
Then came the diagnoses: primary central nervous system lymphoma, a rare form of the non-Hodgkin lymphomas, Bushey said.
Then came the sentence: "He said I had nine months to live," Bushey said.
"I was so mad. Of course I cried. We told him to go away. I've learned you have to be your own advocate," Bushey said. "Nobody knows your body better than you."
Now Bushey is participating in her second Relay for Life as a survivor. The 14th annual Fulton-Montgomery Relay for Life begins at 6 p.m. on Friday at Park Terrace Elementary School in Gloversville and will continue overnight into Saturday.
Bushey is on "Team Brave" from Fonda, which had raised $5,382 as of last week.
She found another doctor, Susan Weaver, her neurooncologist at Albany Medical Center, and from, there she started chemotherapy and radiation.
Weaver, Bushey said, is one of two doctors in the nation who has done significant research on her type of rare cancer.
As Bushey recalled her battle with three recurrences - during each remission she completed another credit toward her degree at Empire State College and in 1999 graduated - she spoke of the chemotherapy as more of a nuisance than something life-changing.
She remembers when her boyfriend dumped her as she struggled, when she lost her hair and became bloated from medication.
But what she remembers most is the firm circle of friends and the Fonda-Fultonville community who surrounded her.
"I do believe there is a reason for me. I would never ever want to take back what I had to go through because I'm a better person," Bushey said. "For one thing, it makes you not worry about the stupid stuff."
Today, Bushey is a substitute teacher at Fonda-Fultonville Central School. Her husband, Michael, is a seventh-grade special education teacher there. They have been married for four years.
"I had been through so much, and I knew he was it. I was so comfortable with him," Bushey said. "I have almost everything I've ever wanted."
Bushey's mother, Judi Sponenberg, attributed her daughter's success and survival to many things and one mainly: a good attitude.
"I'm just so happy everything turned out great. Jenny had such a good attitude, even though all that," Sponenberg said.
Leader-Herald Publisher Patricia Beck is scheduled to speak at this year's Relay for Life, as a representative of the Relay's media sponsor and because her parents and brother died of cancer, said event co-chairwoman Barb Lundberg.
There also is an opportunity for men and women ages 30 to 65 who have never had cancer to fight back. From 5 to 9 p.m. the American Cancer Society will register volunteers for its third Cancer Prevention Study, also known as CPS-3.
For more information, visit www.relayforlife.org/fultonmontgomeryNY.
Amanda Whistle covers Gloversville news. She can be reached at email@example.com.