AHS student battles cancer

Ashland High School senior Diana Banda is a star rugby player who is planning to attend Chemeketa Community College in Salem next year to be a firefighter paramedic. She will intern for Sen. Ron Wyden in June.

For such a healthy, active teen, the phone call she received at rugby practice this year after a routine physical was a shock: "I'm sorry, but you have papillary thyroid carcinoma." Thyroid cancer.

The shocking discovery was made when Banda needed to have a physical in order to play rugby in the spring.

"In the Latino culture, we don't go to the doctor until we're in a lot of pain," Banda said.

"If it weren't for my sports physical, we wouldn't have found out until much later," she added.

Judy Blickenstaff at the AHS Health Center found a nodule &

a small ball &

in Banda's neck that was more than one centimeter thick.

"She thought it was strange," said Banda, "so she sent me to the doctor."

Banda had blood tests, which came back normal. She was then sent for an ultrasound and biopsy of her neck.

"I got my results through the phone at rugby practice," she said. "I told my coach, and she came over and started crying. (Everyone) was in a big group surrounding me."

Surgery to remove the cancerous thyroid gland was an immediate necessity, and initial treatments signaled success. However, Banda needed radiation treatment, as well.

Though treatments have been effective thus far, medical bills have begun to pile up for the Banda family, and people in the community have joined together to support them.

Donations have come in through the AHS office, and classes at the high school have distributed donation cans to businesses around town. On Friday, two Ashland High School seniors, Abby Young and Jesse Javna, will put on a benefit event as their senior project to help raise money for Banda.

"When we heard about Diana's situation, we decided we needed to do something to help," Young said. "This is a chance for the Ashland community to rally together and support one of our own in her time of need. It's up to us to contribute whatever we can, and we're hoping to raise enough so that this event will make an impact for Diana."

The fundraiser will take place Friday from 7-11 p.m. at ScienceWorks Museum, with live music throughout the night and full access to museum exhibits. An entrance donation of $5 will be charged, with additional donations greatly appreciated. All proceeds will go to the Banda family.

As Banda continues to push through the recovery process, she has remained optimistic.

"I see life and everything a lot differently," she said. "I want to tell everyone it's a good thing to get physicals or just get checked."

Banda's peers and teachers have been impressed with her attitude.

"I've worked with Diana a ton this year. I've watched her interact with her peers, and she has grace and confidence that is really unusual in most teenagers," ASPIRE Coordinator Cassie Richards said. "She's been a total inspiration to me all year."

Jesse Javna contributed to this story.

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