CEDAR RAPIDS — Turning adversity into resilience — that’s what Hannah Bormann, a nursing student at Kirkwood Community College, has worked to do since she was diagnosed with a brain tumor six years ago.
“Focusing on the positive has always been my thing and trying to make the best of a bad situation,” she said.
Two weeks ago, five years to the day after she was declared cancer-free, Bormann decided she wanted to do something for the hospital that did so much for her.
“I was a patient at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital,” she said. “I had to have two different surgeries to remove the cancerous tumor from my brain. “I just felt very lucky to have come out of that and to still be here. So, I just really wanted to give back to the hospital that gave me my life back. And I wanted to do something for the kids because I know what they might be going through.”
And thus The Sunshine Project was born.
Bormann, now 20, decided to design T-shirts and sell them to raise money. Her goal, she said, was to sell about 150 shirts, raising between $400 and $500. But within an hour of posting her fundraiser on Facebook, the post received more than 250 shares.
Two weeks later — this past Monday — when the fundraiser closed, she’d sold more than 780 shirts. Between the sales and donations, Bormann had raised more than $6,220.
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“I’m really excited about it,” Bormann said. “I was so surprised that the post reached as many people as it did, and I’m totally grateful for how many people actually supported it.”
Bormann is giving the money she raised to the UI Dance Marathon, which raises money for the hospital and has its annual 24-hour dance marathon Friday and Saturday at the UI Memorial Union in Iowa City.
Bormann was 13 when she started feeling something was wrong.
“I was getting these extreme headaches and sometimes I’d pass out,” she said. “It would get so bad that I’d have to stay home from school and miss out on seeing my friends or participating in sports or other activities.”
Her parents took her to doctors, some of whom dismissed Bormann’s symptoms as puberty, hormones or stress.
After two years of doctors, Bormann went to see a general practitioner her family had known for years.
“He was probably 80 some years old, still practicing, still making house calls, still doing all these things that doctors 50 years ago would do and he was still doing them,” she said. “He was the first doctor that actually thought I should get an MRI, and that’s when we found out that there was something on the scan that shouldn’t be there.”
The doctor sent Bormann to the UI for more testing.
Bormann said the doctors there told her the scan showed a mass on her brain that looked like a “glowing spot.”
Doctors decided to watch the “spot,” rechecking it every three months for change.
“I tried not to think about it and live my life as if there was nothing wrong with me,” Bormann said. “Of course, there were nights when I would lay awake scared and wondering what next could show.”
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After a year of observation, Bormann said doctors determined it was time for surgery. Lab tests showed the mass was cancerous, and three weeks later, Bormann underwent a second brain surgery to remove any remaining cancer cells.
“That second surgery was Feb. 23, 2015,” she said, “and since then I have been cancer-free.”
Bormann still gets regular checkups and brain scans to make sure the cancer has not returned. Every time she returns to the hospital, she said, she is reminded of her experience.
“The hospital, the doctors, the nurses, everyone, they were just all so amazing,” she said. “They worked so hard to take the best care of me and make sure I was comfortable and had everything I needed. And every time I go back, I’m greeted with positivity. ... They treated me like family.”
Bormann is slated to graduate from Kirkwood Community College in May. Her goal is to work in pediatric nursing at the UI hospital.
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