Elizabeth Schilling fixes problems rather than worry about them.
When a seizure changed a study abroad opportunity in Denmark during the spring semester of 2014, she got news no one would want to hear from a doctor in a Copenhagen hospital. A brain tumor, the size of an egg, was growing in her left temporal lobe. The adage of making lemonade out of lemons wasn't far from her reach in the moments after that.
"You should have seen my doctor's face. After he told me I had a brain tumor, I looked at him and said 'Ok, what are we going to do?'," Schilling reflected on that Scandinavian winter day. "He had been expecting an 'Oh no!' or maybe tears. When problems come into life, I've never been that way," she added. "I want to fix things and make them better. I've always been that kind of person and carried that type of mindset into this situation."
She's kept her bright and bubbly perspective with her at each stage of being a proud tumor survivor. As Schilling reminisced about a February 2014 awake craniotomy at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, she recalled: "I talked about (former National Football League quarterback) Peyton Manning, the 2014 Winter Olympics and a lot of other topics with my surgeon during it."
Through the fall after her collegiate graduation, Schilling's neurologists informed her the tumor was growing again, and she tackled it head-on by moving to the Mayo campus to undergo cutting-edge proton radiation for six weeks. She then faced months of chemotherapy which she was able to complete at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.
"When we learned the news of the brain tumor, family and friends from all over jumped into action. They helped us get quickly into the Mayo Clinic, supported my family as we navigated transitioning health care from Denmark to the United States, and provided me with opportunities to finish my getting my undergraduate degree. Friends brought us food, sent motivational messages and cards, and continue to donate great amounts of money to the America Brain Tumor Association," Schilling said. "These are amazing examples of what this entire (North Manchester) community means to me. So many people have done so much for my family and me. Friends and even strangers have stepped in at a moment's notice for anything, and now the university is having this special Community Night event for the fight against brain tumors. It's awesome."
As Elizabeth continues along in life, a simple tattoo of a sailboat on her wrist reminds her not worry … to keep fixing one of life's biggest challenges with a positive attitude. "The tattoo reminds me of a quote from the late Elizabeth Edwards," she said. "She stood in the storm, and when the wind did not blow her away, she adjusted the sail. I've been given what I've been given and have to embrace that."
"Through all of this, I still didn't want the semester's interruption of surgery to stop my chance at graduation, either," she added. "It was a goal to walk with my class from Denison University, so I finished my degree through summer online classes at Manchester University, and did so."
She shares her story again at halftime of the 2018 Manchester University home and Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference opener against Defiance College on Saturday night, Sept. 15, a night dedicated to the North Manchester community and raising awareness and funds for brain tumor research. Residents are invited to special events including free ice cream at 5:00 p.m. with the game kicking off at 6:00 p.m.
Expect Schilling to address the crowd with her trademark smile in place.
"I love sharing my story," she admitted. "When people hear it, and I come through with a smile during the process, it shows that no matter how difficult life can be, a positive attitude can help. You have to make every day a great day, and that's what I try to do."
Attacking problems head on and fixing them … Elizabeth Schilling continues to follow her mantra no matter what storm may arise.