Shauna Ragbir and her family plan every year to attend the Relay for Life of Winter Garden, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, but those plans have been thwarted each time because she ends up making one of her many unscheduled trips to the hospital — all cancer-related. This year, however, she is determined to make it to the April 22 event and has begun raising funds for her family team.
Ragbir, 24, of Ocoee, has been fighting several different cancers since she was born with a rare brain cancer in her spine called ependymoma, which took doctors eight years to diagnose. Following surgery and radiation, her spine collapsed and doctors had to place three rods, 18 screws and six cages in her spine to hold her up.
Told she would never walk again, Ragbir proved everyone wrong and was taking steps six months later.
In 2012, she was told she had a different cancer, papillary thyroid carcinoma, and her thyroid was removed.
A year later — after being told the ependymoma had returned — Ragbir went under the knife again when doctors placed a shunt in her brain so the tumor could drain properly. She is still fighting the cancer.
And through it all, Ragbir, an Ocoee High School graduate, has continued her studies in the University of Central Florida's biomedical program. She hopes to find a cure for cancer.
She knows she will be in college for several more years than the typical student, but she's determined.
“Cancer has had a huge impact on school for me,” Ragbir said. “I had to fight many battles, not only with cancer, but with the school system. Some colleges didn't think I was 'sick' enough to medically withdraw and failed me. I just want to be able to go on to medical school and become an amazing doctor.”
It doesn't matter how many years she has to attend, she said.
“I have missed many semesters of school because I was always having surgeries or I was learning to walk all over again,” Ragbir said. “I don't really keep count of how much longer I have until I graduate anymore, because something might always come in the way again. I just keep going no matter how long it takes.”
The 2013 shunt surgery, while successful, also left her paralyzed, although she has since regained feeling in her arms and some strength in her legs. For a time, her mother drove her to college and took notes for her.
“Not being able to walk as well and as strong has made me go about in a very different way,” Ragbir said. “I had to learn to do daily things that people take for granted, a whole new way.”
She gained some independence recently when hand controls were installed in her car. Ragbir is ecstatic to be able to drive again.
RELAY FOR LIFE
Ragbir insists she is attending this year’s Winter Garden Relay, even if she has to show up in her wheelchair. Her family — parents Ronald and Shantie and brother Ramin — held the first of several fundraisers at Christmastime, in which participants added candles to a tree with the names of loved ones who have had cancer.
Other events are being planned, and the Ragbirs will tally the amount raised on the night of the Relay.
In the meantime, Shauna Ragbir will continue her personal fight, with her family and her service dog, Dakota, by her side.
Contact Amy Quesinberry Rhode at [email protected].