LARGO – Alyiah Ellsworth has a determination to never give up that even cancer could not defeat. When blood started running down the back of her throat during a presentation her freshman year, cancer did not even cross her mind. Despite vomiting blood, Ellsworth thought it was allergies, or another symptom of the sinusitis she […]
LARGO – Alyiah Ellsworth has a determination to never give up that even cancer could not defeat.
When blood started running down the back of her throat during a presentation her freshman year, cancer did not even cross her mind. Despite vomiting blood, Ellsworth thought it was allergies, or another symptom of the sinusitis she had been diagnosed with several times over the past month.
But when she got to her Academy of Health Sciences counselor, Janiene Reynolds, Reynolds warned her it was not allergies and immediately called Ellsworth’s mother.
“I went to different people and everybody kept saying it was an ear infection,” Ellsworth said. “I was admitted that night to the hospital and that’s when they found out. It was kind of surreal.”
Two days later Ellsworth was diagnosed with stage one nasopharyngeal carcinoma, a nose and throat cancer. The diagnosis sent Ellsworth, her mother Terri Powell and their family into a whirlwind as they dealt with not only an immediate response to cancer, but family complications as well.
“From the time she was originally diagnosed with stage one, she declined to stage three in that short period of time,” Powell said, explaining that in just a month Ellsworth’s cancer progressed due to not getting the proper care from her original treatment center.
Ellsworth missed almost the entirety of her freshman year at the Academy of Health Sciences at Prince George’s Community College due to the overwhelming side effects of chemotherapy, but she was finally able to return for her sophomore year after going into remission.
But returning to school was not immediate as, upon her recovery, Ellsworth and her mother learned she would likely have to repeat the ninth grade. For both women, that route was unacceptable, and after surviving cancer Ellsworth felt she was being punished. She wanted to continue on with her class.
“They were going to have me start over, but I really didn’t want to do that. That would be really embarrassing for me,” she said. “I’ve been ahead all my life.”
In fact, Ellsworth is younger than the rest of her class after starting school a year early. She was always in honors courses and said she could not accept being held back.
Together, Powell, Reynolds and the school’s principal were able to hatch a plan to allow Ellsworth to make up her classes while continuing on to her sophomore year. She had to take extra courses during the year in tandem with her already accelerated course load, as well as additional courses during the summer. That continued for both her 10th and 11th grade years.
“As her counselor, I was beginning to feel overwhelmed for her from afar, so I can’t even imagine how she as a student was able to manage everything, academically, emotionally and socially,” Reynolds said. “I was just amazed with Alyiah.”
She also held a summer job, was the treasurer of Phi Theta Kappa, was a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, a health ambassador, a peer health advocate and interned at the Smithsonian. On top of that, in her first semester back, she obtained a 4.1 grade point average.
But it was not easy.
“(It was) very hard,” she said. “It was hectic for me, but it was worth it to be graduating on time with the rest of my class.”
Ellsworth’s graduation ceremonies took place on May 25. She graduated from the Academy of Health Sciences with not only an above 3.5 grade point average and a high school diploma, but an associate’s degree from the county community college.
She will attend Howard University in the fall, where she plans to study international business.
Her mentors feel her determination will serve her well there.
“Even when she was diagnosed with cancer, I was positive that she was going to survive it and get through it,” Powell said. “Proud doesn’t do justice to how I feel about Alyiah and her accomplishments. I’m amazed. She’s a great kid.”