Anna Blackwell

Anna Blackwell, 13, sells handmade eyeglass cases to help support the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.

Anna Blackwell has recently learned that so-called first-world problems really are “first world.”

“My friends complain when their name is spelled wrong at Starbucks,” the 13-year-old said recently. “If that was the worst thing to happen to me in a day I’d love it.”

Blackwell is in eighth grade at Blalack Middle School. She’s dealing with the typical issues teens go through along with having a brain tumor called a benign ganglioglioma. Over one recent 10-month-period, Blackwell has been in the hospital three times, and that was before the tumor was found.

“Mentally, I think I’m doing a little bit better,” she said. “I still have a little PTSD about it, (wondering) what’s going to happen this year.”

Blackwell’s tumor was found after years of chronic headaches and feeling generally unwell. After her first doctors missed the tumor, she was sent for a field vision test, which indicated that her vision was poor. That led doctors down the tumor route.

Her tumor is slow growing and was mostly removed through surgery.

“The fact that it is slow growing makes it a little less scary,” said Blackwell’s mother Stephanie. “For the most part she’s a (typical) teenager. Anna’s a very ambitious, determined young lady.”

Right now, other than school, Anna enjoys playing video games with her brother and playing golf with her grandfather. She had to quit basketball due to her vision problems but is still a “ball kid” for the Dallas Mavericks.

“It’s pretty cool, I mean you get to rebound for some of the biggest guys in the NBA, you get to mop the floor,” she said. “I got to mop for the Golden State game, so that was pretty cool.”

To help raise awareness and support the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, Blackwell makes and sells eye glass cases. She’s hoping her efforts will also help bring attention to a Starry Night DFW - PBTF 5K Run/Walk in September in Colleyville’s McPherson Park.

“The saddest thing about it is it’s more common to have a brain tumor than appendicitis,” Blackwell said.

Appendicitis is exactly how it all began for Blackwell. About two years ago, her appendix ruptured around her femoral nerve in her hip, which caused her a lot of pain. A vision test showed she was without 50 percent of her sight in both eyes. That led to an MRI, and she was diagnosed with a brain tumor that day.

“It wasn’t really hard for me at the time, I was just thankful for answers,” Blackwell said. “It’s a little bit harder now, trying to cope with it. I think (my family) had a harder time with it. It puts things in perspective. It’s hard for me to cope with the loss of vision.”

Right now, she’s in vision therapy, and so far 1 percent of her sight has come back.

Stephanie started a Facebook page called I Wear Gray for Anna.

“Just to show her that I’ve got her back,” Stephanie said of her reason for making the page. That’s how her family and friends get updates and offer support.

“I just wanted people to be able to tell her,” Stephanie said. “I always say, when she went for the MRI was probably the scariest part before diagnosis. After that the hardest thing is after surgery. I miss the simplicity where a problem can be a fever and you can get rid of it. Some problems aren’t so simple.”

Meantime, Blackwell is hoping to raise $5,000 by race time and is hoping to help others know more about brain tumors.

Reading, writing and history prove challenging for Blackwell due to memorization requirements. Math, playing ball with Dirk, and running her own small business, on the other hand, come easy.


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